Microsoft’s cool new research building, a photostory

Microsoft Research

Yesterday Kevin Schofield, blog here, general manager of Microsoft Research, invited Rocky and me over to tour Microsof’s cool new research building which opened three months ago. Building 99. We’ll have a video of this tour up on March 3, as part of the opening of FastCompany.tv.

Kevin Schofield at Microsoft Research

I uploaded a ton of photos, here’s a few of the key notes and photos I made (which are, as always, in the Public Domain so you can do whatever you want with them without giving me credit or money):

Wide open spaces

It feels completely different from any other Microsoft building I’ve ever been in. Has a huge atrium with a coffee shop in it. The atrium has a huge projector and sound system, so they can hold speeches there, or show movies or do other presentations. I think they could get a good wedding business going. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you got married at MIcrosoft Research? I think so!

Equations

The building was built with the help of the researchers themselves. One thing they wanted? Tons of collaboration spaces where they could meet, along with surfaces they could write things on. Here’s some equations that were on one such collaboration area. I asked if the shipping date for the next Xbox was up on the whiteboard somewhere and was told that these walls were done by the cryptography group, so it’s quite possible that the shipping date is in code on these walls. A little geek humor.

Andy Wilson, researcher at Microsoft

Andy Wilson, who was the guy who built the prototypes that became Microsoft Surface, the table-top device that you interact with by touching the surface, showed me around his lab. He said he was a lot happier in the new building because he finally had room for all the weird stuff he’s been collecting. Here he hides behind one of the “Minority Report” holographic screens that he’s been playing with.

This conference room is mine!

Each conference room had a little computer in front of it. Want to know if the room is open to use? Just check. Or sign up. It hooks into Microsoft’s Exchange server so other people who are at their desks can see the room is taken.

Anechoic chamber at Microsoft Research, Phil Chou

Microsoft Research is doing a lot of research where they need a completely quiet room, so they built one. Called an anechoic chamber this thing was so quiet I could hear my heart beating. Here Phil Chou gives us a tour and talks to us about the research that he’s doing (which led to a new kind of conferencing system, called RoundTable, which shows video of the person who is speaking around a conference table).

Microsoft Research

The floor is actually elevated so all networking, and air control can be put underneath. The carpet isn’t actually one solid piece, but rather is tiled so that each piece can be lifted off and things underneath can be reconfigured. Kevin said that if a researcher is bothered by the location of the air vent in her office she could have it moved to some other location. He also said that all the interior walls were moveable. So, if a group wanted to change its space they could do so without costing Microsoft a lot of money in rebuilding costs.

Parking is available!

The parking garage tells you what floors have spaces available so you don’t waste time looking.

Lots of book cases

Instead of wasting lots of room building bigger offices so that researchers could have space for book collections, they built book cases into the hallways. That serves to make the building more social and more efficiently use space. Plus it lets researchers show off esoteric books to visitors like me!

The carpet is tiled, so can be lifted off

Wide open spaces make the building more social. I talked with several researchers I knew from my time there and they said it has massively changed how enjoyable it is to work. The theory group even gets together for tea at 3 p.m. every day. Now THAT is a tea that I bet is interesting!

Microsoft Research

One cool thing about Microsoft is its support of the arts. The art team is studying each room, watching how people use it, and putting appropriate art up. This makes for some of the more visually pleasing workspaces at Microsoft.

Open conference rooms

Many of the conference rooms are open to viewing from the atrium. Kevin told me that it takes a while to get used to, but leads to a more inviting work style, reinforces that Microsoft Research openly shares its research with others, and saves power thanks to the natural light that is now able to get into the conference rooms.

Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, Microsoft Researchers

What Microsoft is learning from this new building is being applied to a new research center in New England that these two, Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, are building.

Thanks to Kevin and the other researchers who showed us around this fascinating building. Sure makes me want to visit more often!

76 thoughts on “Microsoft’s cool new research building, a photostory

  1. Robert:

    This is a fantastic piece! I like the moveable HVAC vents, writeable walls, and open architecture of the new Microsoft Research building. I’m also excited to see what is coming in a few weeks that got you so worked up the other day. Humans don’t work best in boxes, I would propose, so being able to re-arrange one’s work environment to better suit our nature is key to being productive.

  2. Robert:

    This is a fantastic piece! I like the moveable HVAC vents, writeable walls, and open architecture of the new Microsoft Research building. I’m also excited to see what is coming in a few weeks that got you so worked up the other day. Humans don’t work best in boxes, I would propose, so being able to re-arrange one’s work environment to better suit our nature is key to being productive.

  3. I really enjoy these photostories. Great shots and really interesting commentary. Thanks for putting them up!

    As others have said – what an amazing place to work!

  4. I really enjoy these photostories. Great shots and really interesting commentary. Thanks for putting them up!

    As others have said – what an amazing place to work!

  5. Interesting article. About the parking lot. There are a lot of parking lots in Europe (or at least in Germany) with such counters. There are on the streets as well so people know if there are parking lots available.

    Anyway, nice building.

  6. Interesting article. About the parking lot. There are a lot of parking lots in Europe (or at least in Germany) with such counters. There are on the streets as well so people know if there are parking lots available.

    Anyway, nice building.

  7. i should be so lucky….my little software company opened a new hq a couple of years ago and it’s basically a cube farm with windows. i hate the place, but luckily i travel for a living.

  8. wow…It’s always a pleasure to see such buildings …though furniture wise (not in electronics) the training center at the Steelcase campus in Grand Rapids is superb (of course showcasing their best)…on the parking garage, the new London Heathrow terminal 5 one actually guides you to a open parking space, and when you insert your ticket on way out has a kiosk to show you a 3D map of where it is parked…if you have your ticket -)

  9. wow…It’s always a pleasure to see such buildings …though furniture wise (not in electronics) the training center at the Steelcase campus in Grand Rapids is superb (of course showcasing their best)…on the parking garage, the new London Heathrow terminal 5 one actually guides you to a open parking space, and when you insert your ticket on way out has a kiosk to show you a 3D map of where it is parked…if you have your ticket -)

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