Posts tagged with "Microsoft":

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Jenny Sabin's installation for Microsoft responds to occupants' emotions

At Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, campus, architect Jenny Sabin has helped realize a large-scale installation powered by artificial intelligence. Suspended from three points within an atrium, the two-story, 1,800-pound sculpture is a compressive mesh of 895 3D-printed nodes connected by fiberglass rods and arranged in hexagons along with fabric knit from photoluminescent yarn. Created as part of Microsoft’s artist-in-residence program, the project is named Ada, after Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician whose work on the analytical engine laid the groundwork for the invention of computer programming as we know it. Anonymized information is collected from microphones and cameras throughout the building. An AI platform designed by a team led by researcher Daniel McDuff processes this data to try to accurately sense people’s emotions based on visual and sonic cues, like facial movements and voice tone. This data is then synthesized and run through algorithms that create a shifting color gradient that Ada produces from an array of LEDs, fiber optics, and par (can) lights. “To my knowledge, this installation is the first architectural structure to be driven by artificial intelligence in real-time,” Sabin, Microsoft’s current artist in residence, told the company’s AI Blog. Microsoft touts Ada as an example of “embedded intelligence,” AI that’s built-in and responsive to our real-world environment. McDuff also hopes that his emotion tracking technology, as dystopian as it might sound, could have solutions in healthcare or other caregiving situations. (Microsoft employees are able to opt-out of individuated tracking and they assure that all identifying info is removed from the media collected).  Ada is part of a broader push to embed sensing and artificial intelligence into the built environment by Microsoft and many other companies, as well as artistic pavilions that grapple with the future of AI in our built world, like Refik Anadol's recent project at New York's ARTECHOUSE.
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Skanska rolls out a new tool to evaluate embodied carbon

Construction remains one of the most carbon-intensive industries, with materials often contributing significantly to the final project's total pollution (concrete production, for example, is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions). A report from the Carbon Leadership Forum, a network of academics and industry professionals hosted at the University of Washington to focus on reducing embodied carbon, suggests that as the population grows, the equivalent of one New York City in additional floor space will be built every month around the world. That's as much as two trillion square feet of new building, or significant renovations, happening over the next 32 years, according to the nonprofit Architecture 2030. While many environmentally concerned architects and builders focus on operational impacts—certainly a significant contributor to climate change—others have emphasized a concomitant need to focus on the embodied carbon, emissions that result from construction and from creating and transporting materials themselves. A signatory of the Paris Climate Accord, the construction giant Skanska is the latest AEC company to enter the fray of carbon-reduction solutions with an open-source tool called the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), developed in collaboration with C Change Labs and incubated at with funding from Skanska and Microsoft. Current tools and assessments center on these lifecycle impact and operational efficiencies of buildings, however, embodied carbon can account for around half of a building’s emissions impact over its average lifespan. “It may not matter how efficiently we operate our buildings over time if we don’t immediately address the carbon embodied in what and how we build,” Skanska USA chief sustainability officer, Beth Heider, FAIA, explained in a release. The hope with EC3 is that those in the AEC industry can better understand their impact in order to reduce it. “Until now, the building industry has not had a way to assess our supply chain through the lens of their carbon impact,” said Stacy Smedley, regional director of sustainability for Skanska’s building operations based in Seattle, whose benchmarking research was foundational to the project. Currently in a limited pilot, EC3 is an open-source database of over 16,000 materials, searchable by performance requirements, design specifications, project location, and global warming potential—all based on environmental product declaration data. The hope is that stakeholders in the building process, such as designers, developers, and contractors, can better understand the potential carbon impact of their projects. Skanska reports that current participating projects are seeing carbon reductions upwards of 30 percent with little to no difference in cost. EC3 will be publicly released on November 19.
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Microsoft chips in for major affordable housing strategy around Seattle

Like many American cities with more than half a million residents, Seattle is in a housing crisis. The growth of local tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia Group, is reported to have increased Seattle’s population of higher-income residents by 16 percent, making the task of finding affordable housing more difficult for the city’s working class. It was announced on September 26 that Microsoft, King County, and the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) will work together to create affordable housing for more than 3,000 residents. Together, they will provide more than $245 million to purchase five apartment complexes in Kirkland, one in Bellevue, and one in Federal Way. These complexes across the three King County cities were chosen for their proximity to transit hubs and burgeoning real estate markets, which would have likely caused significant rent increases in the targeted buildings if they had not been slated for affordable housing. “This is a long-term effort to stabilize rents in communities where rents are rapidly rising,” said Dan Watson, deputy executive director of the King County Housing Authority, “and fully expect to continue over the next 10 to 15 years.” Watson also confirmed that after the complexes are purchased, their monthly rents could be as much as $500 below similar developments in their respective neighborhoods. To accrue the necessary funds for the project, Microsoft provided a loan to the KCHA for $60 million, King County provided an additional $20 million, and the KCHA itself chipped in $140 million in bonds. Jane Broom, the senior director of Microsoft Philanthropies, announced that its involvement in the collaboration is one part of a $500 million strategy initiated by the company earlier this year to respond to the myriad of challenges facing Seattle’s middle class (defined as households earning between $60,000 and $120,000 a year). "We are committed to maintaining and bolstering strong, vibrant communities here in the greater Puget Sound region," said Broom. "Thriving communities include safe, reliable and affordable housing options for people at all income levels. To do this, we all need to come together to not only build more housing options, but also to preserve what already exists." The remaining $440 million allocated by Microsoft is planned to eventually go towards the construction of additional affordable housing and homeless services.
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Microsoft to invest $500 million in affordable housing around Seattle

After vociferous opposition from Starbucks, Amazon, and other large Seattle-based corporations last summer, the Seattle City Council voted to roll back a tax that would have raised $47 million towards building 591 units of affordable housing. Now, Microsoft has announced that it will invest $500 million for affordable housing over the next three years across King County, Washington. Seattle has been plagued by rising rents and homelessness rates as the area has grappled with a housing shortage, caused in part by inflated demand and stagnant wages. Amazon and other so-called “mega-corporations” in the city had successfully talked the government down from imposing a $500-per-employee head tax that would have funded 1,700 new units of affordable housing in May of 2018 before the watered down version of the tax was ultimately killed in June. Affordable housing and homelessness advocates, who felt that the large companies headquartered in Seattle are partially responsible for its tight housing market, saw the move as adding insult to injury. Microsoft, which is headquartered in neighboring Redmond, wouldn’t have been hit with the head tax, but the initiative sparked a dialogue between Microsoft and the business-led group Challenge Seattle. The plan, which is still being finalized, sprung out of their conversations last summer on how to close the gap in affordability in housing across the region. The $500 million will be doled out as a series of grants that Microsoft is calling “targeted investments," across three stratified tiers. The company will load $225 million at a lower-than-market rate to spur the construction of middle-income housing across six cities to the east of Seattle: Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton, and Sammamish. Microsoft will be lending an additional $250 million at market rate to support the construction of low-income housing across King County. The remaining $25 million will be distributed as grants to combat homelessness in and around Seattle. As part of its announcement, Microsoft revealed that $5 million of its grant will be going towards Home Base, a program that provides legal aid to families facing eviction, and another $5 million will be used to support a new joint agency being formed between Seattle and King County to tackle homelessness. Rather than using that money to solely build housing, which Microsoft expects would only generate about 1,000 new affordable units, the tech company claims that its targeted investments have the potential to spark development of “tens of thousands” of new units. While the company doesn’t expect to make much of a return, it plans to repeat the process and reinvest the money after being repaid. While this is Microsoft’s largest philanthropic gift to date, the company’s motives likely aren’t entirely altruistic. As the New York Times noted, the company is currently riding high with nearly $136 billion in cash on hand and is in the process of renovating its 500-acre Redmond campus. Supporting the region’s housing stock is a boon to lower-income residents, but will also provide a long-term solution for potential employees the company continues to woo as it expands.
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Microsoft's Redmond campus opens to the public…in Minecraft

The massive expansion of Microsoft’s Redmond campus—just east of Seattle in Washington—isn’t expected to wrap up until 2022, but curious gamers can get a sneak peek of the renovation four years early. LMNNBBJWRNS Studio, and ZGF Architects were originally tapped to upgrade 72 acres of the existing 500-acre campus and add another 1.8-million-square-feet of occupiable office space, all of which has now been recreated in Minecraft courtesy of Microsoft. The map can only be imported by users who have the Education Edition of the game (a modified multi-platform version meant for teachers) and can be downloaded straight from Microsoft Education. Minecraft might be known as the best-selling PC game of all time, but it’s also been held up as a teaching tool for getting children interested in architecture and planning. Players can use blocks to build whatever they’d like at any scale and then walk through their space, making it a simple and easy way to get up and close with a project like the Redmond campus. Over the years fans have used Minecraft to build out 500-square-miles of Game of Thrones’ Westeros, recreate the entirety of Denmark at full scale, and replicate a wide suite of architectural gems. The $250 million campus overhaul will add 18 new buildings, a soccer field, and a circular cricket pitch, which Microsoft claims is aimed at its increasingly diverse workforce; all are accessible in the current version of the Minecraft map. According to CNBC, Microsoft tapped Blockworks, an international collective of architects and artists who use Minecraft blocks as their medium, to recreate the campus from drawings provided by Gensler. The end result is an interactive map of the project that students and Microsoft employees alike can use to familiarize themselves with the new campus’s layout from a human perspective. The recreation is far from finished, and Andrew Yang, a project manager at Gensler, has promised a future update that will add more realistic interiors and more people to the campus. Minecraft: Education Edition is included in the Education edition of Office 365, but since the campus was created in a standard Minecraft map, it may eventually become accessible in the normal version of the game sometime in the future.
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Artist Mel Chin addresses climate change with virtual reality underwater world in Times Square

This summer, visitors to Times Square can take in an underwater virtual reality experience, courtesy of the North Carolina-based conceptual artist Mel Chin and technology giant Microsoft. The site-specific mixed-reality public art installation titled Unmoored will come to life from July 11 through September 5. Chin tackles the topic of climate change, imagining a future where melting ice caps cause the city to go underwater. As visitors look through VR goggles, they can see a 'nautical traffic jam' of 3-D modeled ships, each with their own unique identification number and name. Ships move slowly in the city, bumping into each other and buildings, creating waves rendered by realistic animation and sound effects. Visitors can also view Wake, another public artwork by Chin, which “evokes the hull of a shipwreck crossed with the skeletal remains of marine mammals,” beside a sculpture of the 19th century opera singer Jenny Lind. Chin chose New York City as the site for the word because it represents the center of trade, entertainment, and capitalism for the country. Its history is loaded with topics that resonate today, like guns and slavery. The USS Nightingale, which was historically involved with the shipping of slaves, is digitally recreated in the Unmoored experience. The installations are part of an exhibition titled Mel Chin: All Over the Place, presented with the Queens Museum of Art and NYC-based, nonprofit arts organization No Longer Empty in various sites around New York. Times Square visitors can view the show through mobile devices via Unmoored’s mobile app, which is now available for download and use. Check this link for more details.
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Microsoft announces that LMN, ZGF, and others will design its corporate campus in Washington State

Computer software giant Microsoft is moving along in its efforts to replace and expand its longtime corporate headquarters campus in Redmond, Washington, east of Seattle.  According to Geekwire, Microsoft recently announced the architecture and contracting teams for the transformational project, which aims to replace nine existing two-story office clusters with 18 four- and five-story office blocks. On the design side, LMNNBBJWRNS Studio, and ZGF Architects are on board for the 3 million-square-foot project; Berger Partnership will act as lead landscape architect with OLIN partnering on the project as well. Microsoft has also selected SkanskaBalfour BeattyGLY, and Sellen as general contractors for the re-do, which will affect roughly 72 acres on Microsoft’s 500-acre campus. The project will demolish all of the of the site’s original 'X-Wing'-style, 1980s-era office buildings, replacing those facilities and then adding a net 1.8 million-square-feet of space on top of what is existing. The new offices will be clustered into “distinct villages,” according to a Microsoft statement, with the core section aiming to be “more open and less formal” than the current campus. A rendering unveiled by Microsoft depicts glass-wrapped office buildings laid out along a skewed grid surrounding a central green containing playing fields and a bosque.  The project comes as Redmond begins to densify ahead of forthcoming transit investments that will link the city with Seattle in coming years. The first phase of the city’s Overlake Village—a 170-acre mixed-use district that will eventually house 40,000 residents—is underway and will bring 1.2 million square feet of offices, 1,400 housing units, 25,000 square feet of retail uses, a hotel, and a conference center to the town. Microsoft aims to begin work on its $250 million campus expansion later this year with an eye toward completing the project by 2022. 
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Microsoft reveals renderings for its new Silicon Valley campus upgrade

Microsoft has gone big and broken ground on its new Silicon Valley headquarters, with a sustainability-minded plan to modernize its Mountain View, California outpost. The 32-acre campus might seem small when compared to the company’s sprawling, 500-acre flagship location in Redmond, Washington, but Microsoft’s pursuit of a net zero non-potable water certification under the Living Building Challenge will make them the first tech company to totally reuse non-potable water. The redevelopment plans come as WRNS Studio replaced SOM early last year as Microsoft’s designers of choice. The redevelopment is leaning hard on a green modernization, with Microsoft pursuing LEED Platinum certification for all of its new buildings, committing to the WELL Building standards for the interiors, and integrating cross-laminated timber (CLT) throughout all of the new buildings to cut material usage. In trying to meet their water-use reduction goals, and acknowledging California’s limited groundwater availability, the campus will feature rainwater catchments and an on-site wastewater treatment plant so that drinkable water can be recycled for other uses. Because the campus is next to Stevens Creek, the tech giant is also introducing a 4-acre, occupiable green roof solely planted with native species. Rooftop solar panels will also help cut the campus’s energy usage, while the buildings will let natural light in through their uniformly large windows. Not to be outdone by the main, Seattle-adjacent campus, the project will also include an underground parking garage topped by a soccer field and a new athletics facility, while returning the former parking lots to nature. Besides modernizing the office space of their 2,000 San Francisco Bay Area-employees, the new campus will feature a renovated dining hall, new theater, conference center, and a “Microsoft Technology Center.” Microsoft has provided a full fly-through video of their plans below. The new Mountain View campus plan increases the existing 515,000-square-foot campus to 643,000 square feet, and comes amidst the recent opening of Apple’s new space-aged campus nearby. Similarly, Microsoft's renovation of its main headquarters in Redmond, announced at the same time as its Silicon Valley campus, feels like a direct response to Amazon’s city-hopping HQ2 plans. Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus is on track to re-open sometime in 2019.
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Tech behemoth Microsoft selected young San Francisco firm Blitz to design its flagship office

“You could say we were the underdogs,” Blitz principal and CEO Melissa Hanley said about being selected to design Microsoft’s flagship office in one of San Francisco’s most notable buildings, 555 California Street. “Microsoft challenged a lot of things with this project, from hiring a tiny little baby firm like us to selecting a transparent site in San Francisco.”

Aside from facing the obstacles of being a small architecture firm tapped to create an office for one of the largest technology companies in the world, Blitz had to work within the restraints of 555 California Street (formerly the Bank of America Center). Art Gensler was brought on to design the tower’s indoor space when the building opened in 1969, and he’s credited by some as the inventor of commercial interior architecture. “There was a great deal of responsibility to not mess it up,” Hanley said.

Hanley and her team treated working within the iconic building’s structure and Microsoft’s “global design guidelines” (hundreds of parameters for everything from the conference rooms to staff algorithms) as a huge, complex puzzle. To take the stakes one notch higher, the office was downsizing from a 90,000-square-foot space to a 43,500-square-foot space, and employees were understandably concerned.

In an attempt to solve all of these challenges with one elegant solution, “We really focused on the idea of neighborhood design,” Hanley said. “We broke up a sea of desks into groups of 18 to 30 users, and every ‘neighborhood’ has familiar touch points such as lockers for flex employees, water, trash, etc.” Each neighborhood is a different bright color, which offers easy wayfinding and furthers employees’ sense of home. The layout offers equal access to front-row views of the cityscape from the 265 windows on the site.

The office also showcases Microsoft’s latest technology to customers. Upon entering the lobby, visitors walk up a 30-foot-tall staircase to a landing featuring an interactive, virtual moss wall. “It is technical, fun, and childlike,” Hanley said. “It’s a place where people can pause and think about their journey into the space.” Blitz echoed the moss wall with real living walls throughout the space, a slightly surreal move that blurs the borders between reality and technology. The firm extended the outdoor, organic aesthetic with textural flooring and canopies wrapped in a bleached-cork covering that resembles birch.

Although the project was a game changer for Blitz, which now has three ongoing projects with Microsoft in addition to work for Comcast and Yahoo, it was also pivotal for Microsoft. “Before this office, Microsoft was located in the outskirts of the city; it was almost like a castle in the sky,” Hanley said. “Now it is downtown, it is transparent, it engages with the city, and all the stuff that goes on outside its windows influences it day-to-day.”

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Microsoft HoloLens partners with the first holographic real estate leasing center

The new holographic headset by Microsoft, HoloLens, has just started shipping to U.S. and Canadian developers last week for $3,000 (the consumer version release date is still unannounced). Now we hear the tech company giant is partnering with global real estate developer Skanska to create the first leasing center in the world using holographic technology. No word yet on the leasing center’s location, but the space is expected to open this June. The center is slated to help sell Skanska’s proposed and unbuilt project, 2+U, a downtown Seattle high rise planned between First and Second Avenues and Seneca and University Streets, with expected completion early 2019. Seattle-based digital production agency Studio 216, which specializes in real estate virtual and mixed-reality visualizations, is partnering with Microsoft and Skanska on the 2+U project. Unlike other virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift (which Facebook's acquired for $2 billion), HoloLens is untethered, and incorporates a more “mixed reality” or an “artificial reality” setup: users can still be present and aware of the space they are in and other people around them. Holograms are “projected” onto real objects in space. “Developing for Hololens is similar to developing for VR headsets, but you have to ask yourself different questions,” said Kyle Riesenbeck, Technical Lead for the 2+U Holographic project in a press release. “With VR, you have to create both the environment and the content, but with Hololens, the challenge is determining the best way to have your content interact with your existing world, and enhance your real life experience in a unique and necessary way.” According to Microsoft’s website, the device features sensors, a processing unit, special high-def color lenses, and built-in speakers. Microsoft is also collaborating with Lowe’s, the home improvement company, to help customers visualize new kitchen or living layouts, finishes, and more. Since we are on the topic of holograms, enjoy this YouTube video of the Seattle skyline, featuring a different type of holographic technology.
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WRNS Studio to expand Microsoft headquarters in Mountain View with green roof, creekside habitat

Last week Microsoft submitted plans to the city of Mountain View to expand its Silicon Valley headquarters. As with Apple's upcoming building and Google's proposed campus, this one is also pastoral and eco-minded. A rendering by shows the low-rise office buildings enmeshed in a riparian landscape and topped by an expanse of verdant meadow. According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, WRNS Studio replaced SOM on the job. This new scheme not only updates the 515,000-square-foot campus, but also adds 128,000 square feet of workspace and 164,000 square feet of green roof. Changing the paradigm for parking, the design will restore more than 6 acres of asphalt surface parking into a “creekside environment.” But don’t expect a decreased demand for parking spaces, there’s talk of a new garage topped by a soccer field. "They’ve talked to us from square one about taking all the parking adjacent to Stevens Creek and turning that to habitat," said Mountain View Community development director Randy Tsuda told SVBJ. The tech behemoth also intends to buy the property, which it now leases. In an email to employees executive vice president Qi Lu wrote, “Today, I am excited to announce our plan to further invest in the success of the Silicon Valley region. Microsoft is acquiring the Mountain View Silicon Valley Campus to build a state-of-the-art facility and create an exceptional place to work... Sustainability, collaboration, and health & wellness are at the center of the design, incorporating features such as team courtyards, easy access to the outdoors, an onsite gym, and LEED Platinum certification.” WRNS’s plan calls for demolishing and rebuilding two existing buildings and infilling much of the campus with courtyards and outdoor spaces, while new programs along Macon Street and La Avenida Streets will directly engage with the community. Construction is expected to start in early 2017.