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