Estudio Guto Requena has taken inspiration from Brazilian culture for Wallmart’s São Paulo HQ
Tech start-ups with the cool factor turned up to 11 are ten-a-penny these days, so it’s refreshing to see a corporate giant like Walmart put its dollar behind something as funky as its São Paulo offices.
“They reached us through another office we designed: São Paulo’s Google headquarters,” says Guto Requena from the design studio that takes his name. “It was a direct invitation and we were the only ones considered for it.” Requena, along with Paulo de Camargo, were the architects responsible for this five-floor scheme in a new-build tower in Brazil’s largest city.
This is the office for the dot-com arm of the American retail giant, and as such, explains Requena, “most of their employees are young people under 30, so the design brief was about making them want to come to work.” Hence the inclusion of skateboards and bikes to reflect the interests of this demographic. “Also, the space is supposed to represent the company concepts of Respect, Service, Ethics and Excellence. They were also open to our idea of bringing some ‘Brazilian-ness’ to the space.”
This workplace is the very antithesis of the cubicle-laden floorplates that so typify the North American office, and by the sounds of it, the architects pushed for it to have a strong design identity. Requena and de Camargo say they conducted the usual interviews and online exchanges with company employees to assess the values, needs and expectations of those working in this environment, but what’s different here is talk of their “having long conversations with coffee and homemade poundcake late into the afternoon, talking about life.”
It was this philosophising that then drove all the project choices. Sounds a lot more chilled than poring over space-utilisation charts and various vectors to see what would be best for the way the staff work.
“Most employees are under 30, so the brief was about making them want to come to work”
Continues de Camargo, “Brazilian culture is reflected most in the creative and informal way we occupied the whole space and the way we wanted people to interact with each other as they move through the floors.”
The architects brought the outside in, to reflect the Brazilian habit of interacting most when outdoors. In rural areas, they say, it’s commonplace to simply place a chair in the street and chat to one’s neighbours of an evening. Communal areas that are more like balconies or patios feature beach chairs, picnic tables and rocking chairs. The feeling of brasilidade, or Brazilian identity, even goes as far as the table settings, the flower species specified for the green belt that runs through the peripheral spaces and the checked carpet pattern, a large-scale nod to the gingham cloth associated with picnics. Images from contemporary Brazilian photographers plus maps, illustrations, folk art and pieces of domestic furniture by established homegrown designers again help to underpin this sense of national pride. The latter includes hammock armchairs by Maurício Arruda, a stool by Lina Bo Bardi and sofa and armchair by Fernando Jaeger.
Workstations are located near windows to take advantage of daylight while in the lounges and what the architects refer to as ‘decompression’ areas, lighting takes a more decorative turn. There are two lamps made from hollowed-out gourds (a fruit traditionally used in the making of Brazilian percussion instruments), painted grey inside and suspended from a wooden frame, with colourful wiring left exposed.
Each floor measures 1,000sq m, meaning there was a challenge to bring this vastness down to a human dimension.
To do this, the architects created ‘cocoons’ of enclosed space in the centre. Each is clad in a different wood type and colour: eucalyptus and yellow on the sixth floor, OSB and green on the seventh floor, and pine and orange on the ninth floor, for example.
The colours all relate to various elements of Walmart’s branding, with the large-scale pendants on the sixth floor representing the flower of the company’s logo. While different departments are separated out on to different floors, these decompression areas are spread out across the building, for the people from sales or human resources or finance to come together.
“The space is supposed to represent the company concepts of Respect, Service, Ethics and Excellence”
On the seventh floor there is a games room with a pool table, table football and board games; the ninth floor features an orange-clad video games room with couches and cushions for relaxing, or reaching for the console to get to the next level.
“Going up on the tenth floor, right in the middle of the space, we’ve placed a grandstand, a place for informal meetings and for people to play some music together,” says Requena. Aside from the cocoons, there are other pockets of space, with either wooden bar stools or easy chairs; on the floor here, the gingham check is replaced with rugs in the corresponding branding colour.
The piece de resistance of this workplace is undoubtedly the open area on the sixth floor. Here there is a mini golf course, a space for yoga, an open cinema as well as a cafeteria. Characterised by its timber decking, it also has a shaded area and its own grandstand that can host small events.
The architects say the design creates spaces that are welcoming and comfortable yet professional and practical. While Walmart is no tech start-up (sales totalled US$466 billion in 2013) the elements of digital culture are seemingly the same – which is why everything, from space for guitar-strumming to a round of golf, are exactly what is needed.