Shortly after being forced out of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs bought a small computer manufacturer named Pixar. In 2000, he relocated the company to an abandoned factory. The original plan called for three buildings, with separate offices for computer scientists, animators, and the Pixar executives.
Jobs immediately scrapped it. Instead of three buildings, he wanted a single vast space with an atrium at its centre.
As Pixar’s Ed Catmull explains, “The philosophy behind this design is that it’s good to put the most important function at the heart of the building. Well, what’s our most important function? It’s the interaction of our employees. That’s why Steve put a big empty space there. He wanted to create an open area for people to always be talking to each other.”
Jobs saw separated offices as a design problem. He shifted the mailboxes to the atrium, then moved the meeting rooms, cafeteria, coffee bar, and gift shop to the centre of the building. “The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space,” says director Brad Bird. “But Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.”
Jobs insisted that the best creations occurred when people from disparate fields were connected, especially in an age of intellectual fragmentation.
Steve Jobs knew his team could send a message throughout the Pixar building in a millisecond, but he created an environment that encouraged interaction. Intuitively we know Jobs is right. The content of any message can be sent and delivered around the world instantly. The context of the message is the part that helps people understand each other. For that, we still need the best communication technology ever conceived – human contact.