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Inside Salesforce's Zen-Heavy, Eco-Groovy, Starchitect-Designed New Building

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Office space so holistic, it's almost biodegradable

Salesforce’s new building at 350 Mission Street doesn’t have a setting on the thermostat that measures everyone’s karma. But they’re probably working on it. The company's new space is saturated with the holistic sensibilities of CEO Marc Benioff, from the Forest Stewardship Council-approved wood on the tiles in the lobby, all the way up to the employee Zen lounges, partly designed by the Vietnamese monks who crashed at Benioff’s place for several months last year.

Yes, there’s a Zen lounge on every floor. They’re called "mindfulness rooms," and we’re told there will be one on every floor of every Salesforce building. Since your average office supply vendor lacks such placid amenities as reed benches, paper screens, and pillows that look so much like polished stones that you must touch them to know the difference, the company had to tap some luxury hotel chains to help decorate the place.

Salesforce is, of course, a tech company, and the 10th floor office they opened to journalists yesterday is the seat of 350 Mission’s IT department, but the computing giant nevertheless recommends bringing no technology into the Zen room, preferring that employees and guests just sit and meditate.

Meanwhile, speakers on the ceiling pump an unending stream of white noise, the volume adjusting itself automatically depending on how much chatter is going on at any given time. Seriously, that karma meter is probably only six months away.

The new 30-story, 450,000-square-foot building (a SOM design, with interiors by Gensler) has been dubbed Salesforce East and will house roughly 10 percent of the company’s 6,000 San Francisco employees. The old Salesforce West is directly across the street, and a hundred yards away crews are hard at work on Salesforce Tower.

The company that began in a North Beach apartment will soon occupy an entire intersection of the most primo real estate in the heart of the city. (Although of course, that North Beach apartment now looks like a slightly less humble beginning than it once did, given what you’d pay for it these days.)

Note that the wood-tiled lobby is public space; you can waltz on in there anytime you please, and every door fronting both Mission and Fremont streets is unlocked. A coffee bar and a new Michael Mina restaurant are forthcoming, as is a top-floor garden, and the stairs to the second floor double as bleacher seating for public events.

A titanic LED screen (2,500 square feet, nearly three stories tall) faces the street and displays the digital art of Turkish auteur Refik Anadol, including a wireframe model of the city illuminated by blue lights representing Twitter activity. Other times the screen throbs with an oceanic swirl of red or green lights. It’s hallucinogenic, albeit in a corporate way.

Upstairs, the eco-friendly vibe in the LEED platinum building gets turned up to 11. Note the ceiling tiles, made of 71 percent recycled materials and held in place by plant-based glues, polished to a reflective sheets so that the lights can be kept dim without having everyone fumble around in the dark. The lights themselves automatically adjust their output depending on how much natural illumination is coming through the omnipresent windows.

The green vibe is less successful at times. The carpet, for example, is textured to resemble sand at the edges and then transitions into a plantlike color and gradience. Nice idea, but in practice it looks like the floors are being attacked by aggressive algae.

Similarly, additions like the CO2 censors that "distribute more oxygen to prevent fatigue" are considerate, but have the effect of suggesting that Salesforce employees are delicate tropical fish that the company is trying very hard not to kill in their new aquarium.

Speaking of oxygen, you may notice that the ceilings are mostly exposed concrete, even visible above the aforementioned designer tiles. This is because the ventilation is in the floor, meaning that, just like shoe ads have long promised, in Salesforce East you actually are walking on a cushion of air.

This is meant to provide better circulation, but has the bonus of freeing up the ceilings from the depressing looking clutter of ducts and panels. The exposed concrete and sprinklers give the place a clean, honest, almost blue-collar feel.

Although it’s likely accidental, stuff like this is the most Zen-like accoutrement in the building. The smooth, speckled surface of an industrial slab is something a true Zen master could probably contemplate for hours.

Which isn't to say that they don't have a flair for dramatics. Behold:

Check out that LED wall! #350mission #skidmoreowingsmerrill

A photo posted by ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Jeff Miner (@jminer210) on