Dubbed the ‘City of Steel’, Pittsburgh has become the new home of the research and development hub for the world-dominating taxi service, Uber. Not only has Uber become a common name in our day-to-day vocabulary but is also now at the forefront of technological developments in self-driving vehicles.
The 80,000sqft warehouse space was renovated to match Uber’s design and engineering vision, with the help of Assembly / CannonDesign, an international architectural firm.
Working in collaboration with a creative and inspiring team, Assembly / CannonDesign teamed up with local firm Strada Architecture, Studio i lighting consultants, Continental Office and Maltbie, (an exhibit and experience designer) to bring together the warehouse space.
Unlike other technology office spaces, the Uber ATG area was specifically designed for builders and engineers as a functioning working environment with a variety of workshop areas and studios. Located amongst the workstations and studios is a fully functional machine shop, where autonomous cars are engineered, built and tested. Liz Guerrero, Principal of Assembly / CannonDesign who led the lighting design, reflected: “At the time of this project, we had completed a handful of projects with Uber, starting with their San Francisco Headquarters in 2014. We worked closely with Travis Kalanick on the design of those projects, so when ATG found the site of their new home, he introduced us to Eric Meyhofer, who leads Uber’s ATG division in Pittsburgh. Our goal was to create a space that focuses on their work first. Uber is building the City of the Future in the City of Steel, which, to us, meant celebrating the past and where Pittsburgh has been, but also celebrating where it’s going. When we design a space for any client, it’s important that every decision ladders up to the big idea – from the initial planning to the materials, furniture, as well as the lighting.”
The project took just over a year from beginning to completion in the former Sam’s Club building, with very little changes in the design concept and the vision remaining consistent throughout. As Guerrero explained: “Budget and design schedule are always constraints and it feels like you could always use more of both, but those constraints are what push you to be better, more creative and more nimble. For us, we never settle, so it’s always about figuring out how to bring the big idea to life within the projects means.”
Functioning as a workshop space as well as an office and showroom, it is important the lighting is tailored accordingly to its prescribed environment. As Guerrero described, there were key areas of lighting and control systems put in place for the individual needs: “In the studio spaces or open office, the lighting needed to be more controlled, more level with plenty of dimming capabilities for the individuals. When you’re tinkering at your desk and working on hardware components, the lighting needs to be brighter, but the software teams typically like it darker. Building in range provided the right balance and flexibility.”
Assembly / CannonDesign attributes the rust toned colour palettes of the project to the industrial nature of the city and the business. The inspiration for the scheme echoed the city’s heritage, from worn Cor-ten steel frames and glass walkways to the natural grain of local hardwoods – providing the perfect contrast to the stark, machine-like white showrooms.
Using a combination of architectural and decorative fixtures, the design firm primarily used fittings from 3G Lighting, Architectural Lighting Works, USAI, Gotham, Luminii, Finelite and Klus to provide the functional yet elegant fixtures that blend seamlessly into the architectural design.
“The design continued to evolve through the construction of the project, but the vision remained consistent. We love that lighting can bring another layer and depth of the design of the space. We wanted to use light in many different ways in hopes of creating a rich and varied environment,” reflected Guerrero. “We love that every client and project are different and they have their own set of objectives and challenges; a different puzzle to solve. What stands out is that we really enjoyed the collaboration with ATG and getting to learn about and experience another part of the country. We fell in love with the city of Pittsburgh on this project, and I think that shows in the end result.”