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Goodbye Silly Tech Space, Hello GitHub HQ

San Francisco

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Five bars, two design teams, and a slew of permits later, GitHub's new SoMa HQ at 275 Brannan is the poster child for the new wave of tech space. At yesterday's Bisnow Future of Tech event, those in on the project sat back on leather couches to reflect on the groundbreaking space around them.

BNBuilders project exec Rob Melinauskas noted that columns in the first-floor space were removed to create more of an open-floor layout. (Ancient Romans were furious, but their coliseums never had WiFi.) The West Coast builder, which focuses on biotech, healthcare, and corporate offices, is currently doing TI work at 499 Illinois in Mission Bay and some ground-up projects in South Bay (but it's a secret as to whom; he's signed NDAs). The GitHub HQ project included an extensive amount of custom woodworking, hiring two millwork companies to deliver the space. The "blank canvas" they started with made it easy to sit down with GitHub early on to nail down specific finishes. One rare item: deconstructed shipping containers from South Carolina.

The CRE Group SVP Brian Trainor, who moderated, called the GitHub job a once-in-a-lifetime project. It's rare to achieve a balance of an amazing building, landlord, and client with a tremendous vision. He asked panelists about challenges with core and shell upgrades to prep for TI work. When Rob dug a pit, he also unearthed a piece of history: an old railroad spur. (Wait until we see him on the Antiques Road Show.) Once the lease was executed, the challenge was transferring GitHub's existing culture into the raw shell. Brian admits he had no idea what API was a year and a half ago (FYI--it specifies how software components should act together). Now it seems "we are asking those types of questions" with tech tenants, he says.

FENNIE+MEHL Architects principal Douglas Mehl says there's a space for every mood, ranging from quiet "coder caves" to a floor with music blaring 24/7. (Sounds like our bedroom in high school.) It's the anti-Google, he says, in that there's no slides or silliness that's typically found inside the walls of Silicon Valley tech giants. There's a paradigm shift, he says, toward a more professional-meets-fun environment. Also, unlike 18-hour Google days, GitHub encourages employees to work hard at HQ but then go somewhere else in the neighborhood. That's not to say their five bars don't get lots of uses; he consulted with a bartender at Zero Zero for the booze setup. There's nothing worse than going to a stale office every day, he says.

Even Rebecca McEfee, principal at Studio Hatch (the other design team), loves to stop by for a drink in the banquette area. The HQ is a "living, breathing organism" and some spaces are already being redone. She says as staff expands, they need a flexible workspace. Creating a "space within a space" breaks up an open workplan to foster inspiration. Working with local vendors, like Oakland's Form & Reform for the funky and rustic lighting fixtures, helped give back to the community. Many lessons were learned during the design process that can be applied to other industries like hospitality, she says; it's all about crafting an experience starting when you walk in the door.

Hudson Pacific SVP Drew Gordon's San Francisco portfolio includes GitHub's HQ building. He says the market is much more competitive than it was in 2010, when "it was us and Kilroy buying." Now hungry buyers are everywhere; Hudson was up against 26 other bidders at 275 Brannan. Being aggressive is key, and they plunked down a nonrefundable offer. In the late '90s, tech companies made the mistake of not engaging with the neighborhood (among a few other mistakes). Tech companies are more mature than they were back then, he says, and understand the benefit of community involvement. That engagement piece was also seen in Uber and Square's big leases in his building at 1455 Market.

This is GitHub's third office, or "3.0," and CIO Scott Chacon wanted the 55k SF space to be the best yet. He likes the warm wood feeling with brick walls and hardwood floors. Being a good neighbor is important to Scott, and they let groups sign up to use their first-floor space. The fire department had their Christmas party there last weekend (they got called on their Halloween party, so they "felt bad"). Sensors in meeting rooms let him know what's being occupied when. He can't wait for five to 10 years from now when building managemnt systems are smarter and more customizable.

Scott says he wanted their lobby to truly amaze people, so instead of making visitors gaze at some art pieces, they replicated the Oval Office. Why not pretend you are staring at President Obama while waiting 15 minutes for a meeting? (Oh, and there's also a Situation Room upstairs for execs to huddle in.)

Taking a note from Clue, GitHub built this secret lounge that hides behind a rotating bookshelf. They shopped on Books By The Foot to stack up on rows of reading materials. There's also a nearby speakeasy with a hatched viewing door. Guys also get a kick out of a full-blown boxing room.

For the ladies, there's this fancy parlor. Knoll's Whitney Feussner couldn't help but pose for a pic (we won't tell the Barcelona she's cheating). She told us Knoll just moved into their new S.F. digs at 140 New Montgomery.