Microsoft has never been much of a bellwether for creativity in corporate-campus design. Its global headquarters in Redmond, Washington, outside Seattle, is distributed across more than 100 buildings that have no names, only numbers. Two of the company’s biggest buildings are “Building 16” and “Building 17.” That kind of tells you everything you need to know.
But statement architecture has crept onto the huge campus, and more buildings there are now described as bright, modern, and airy, many incorporating outdoor spaces. The very latest additions are probably going to be the most in-demand. Microsoft has built three tree houses, giving employees a place to work up high on enclosed platforms in tree canopies.
Although there is science to support the benefits of working in nature—the exposure has been found to reduce stress, and thus increase creativity and ability to focus, for example—one hardly needs peer-reviewed evidence to understand the appeal of these spaces. Trees make people happier. In fact, they were once our homes: The earliest pre-humans once lived high up in tree canopies. Even the Medici family of Venice understood the restorative power of tree houses as retreats. (Theirs were marble.)
The more employees book or claim these spaces, the healthier they may feel. As Quartz reported of the Japanese practice of forest bathing, hanging out amongst the trees even seems to boost the immune system because of the essential oils, called phytoncide, that trees and plants emit. Japanese researchers propose that breathing in phytoncides gives our immune cells a boost.
Builder Pete Nelson of the popular TV show “Treehouse Masters” designed these meeting rooms for the tech giant. According to the company, he first spent hours “connecting with the trees” before launching the work. Not every employee “got it” right away, according to Bret Boulter, the Microsoft real estate and facilities manager who led the project. He was quoted on the company’s blog, saying, “A lot of people are like, ‘where’s the AV?’ And I’m like, it’s a treehouse.”