Uber Advanced Technologies Group Center
Pittsburgh continues to reinvent itself, from being a center of coal and steel production to becoming a home to recent advances in biomedical and robotics technology. And as a hub of innovation, the city is the ideal location for Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group Center (ATG Center), where the company’s driverless cars are being developed.
Since its inception in 2009, Uber has connected more than a billion riders to drivers in more than 450 cities and counting. Seeking to make a serious investment in robotics and the development of autonomous cars, the company launched the ATG Center in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh to be within the vicinity of Carnegie Mellon University’s respected robotics department. The company has transformed an 80,000-square-foot warehouse along the Allegheny River into a workplace of tomorrow for nearly 500 employees. “We’re situated between two bridges directly on the water. It’s simply a beautiful location,” says Eric Meyhofer, Uber ATG Center’s principal and engineering lead.
Technology by design
San Francisco–based designer Denise Cherry had been collaborating with Uber in recent years. The company chose her nascent firm, Assembly (see profile, page 18), led by Cherry, Liz Guerrero, and Omar Toro-Vaca, to oversee the design, with Strada as architect of record. “Pittsburgh’s long history of cutting-edge production technology, and of manufacturing the most essential machines of its age, aligned with Uber’s desire to launch and build its first self-driving vehicle. This idea of marrying the past and future became the design inspiration behind the ATG Center,” explains Cherry.
In concert with Uber, Assembly’s process was a convergence of state-of-the-art robotics design and futuristic interior design. “Denise and I quickly learned that we had a very compatible vision,” Meyhofer says. “She showed me how to make any idea I had even better. Often, I didn’t do anything but say, ‘Wow, please do that amazing idea that you have.’ She and her team were an inspiration.”
Cathedral to the car
Uber envisioned the ATG Center as a cathedral to the industrial values—hard work, dedication, and creativity—that are a nod to Pittsburgh’s history. This vision is reflected in the symmetrical plan, with the showroom at the head of the “central nave,” in some ways symbolic of an altar to the autonomous car. Many elements in this central space, including a granite fireplace and bleached pine stadium seating for team assemblies, are white or light in color.
Assembly both contrasted and complemented the bright white by warming the showroom with colors and materials associated with Pittsburgh’s industrial era. Frames of worn Corten steel, glass-and-steel walkways, and the natural grain of native hardwoods connect with the local context. “We wanted to bring beauty in basic, functional elements by pairing materials in interesting ways to create a rich experience,” Cherry says. “There’s an authenticity of materials reflected in the use of woods, leather, and steel.”
Unlike a typical technology office, the ATG Center is for builders. The majority of the furniture was custom-designed with Pittsburgh-based Urban Tree and Los Angeles–based MASHstudios. Each grouping of six workstations, extending from the central space, is adjacent to an informal area and two small conference rooms. Workstations feature enough room among desks and nearby tables to ensure that each person has an ample work surface in virtually any direction. The immediacy of the machine shop and workshop—visible from workstations and next to the showroom—demonstrates that design born from function can take an elevated, stunning form. In the workshop, autonomous cars receive finishing touches after they are engineered and tested. In addition, the layout pays homage to Pittsburgh’s bridges, incorporating a mezzanine-level catwalk over the nave.
Lighting, including fixtures designed by Bec Brittain and Michael Anastassiades, serves as a bridging element through the ceiling planes. “We took our cues from hospitality,” explains Guerrero. “We wanted to create moments in space by playing with light levels to create moods, with contrasts in light and dark.”
Numerous spaces are crisp white, with the light fixtures hidden to create a glow without visual distraction. Linear spaces incorporate interspersed downlights that evoke computer coding of dots and dashes.
Ultimately, the ATG Center is more than a workplace; it’s a laboratory where the future is forged. “This project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for designers,” Cherry says. “We were excited to learn more about the city of Pittsburgh and help redefine what the future of all cities will be.”
Meyhofer points to the impact that the future- forward interiors have on the Uber employees. “The building elevates people and makes them want to perform at the level of the space,” he says. “This space sets the bar very high, and people get it. They want to be here.”
who Assembly project team: Denise Cherry; Liz Guerrero; Justin Ackerman; Sarah Dziuba; Hilary Hanhan; David Hunter; Alma Lopez; Jeorge Jordan. Contractor: Continental Building Systems. AV consultant: ITS Corp. Lighting: Studio. Graphics: Assembly. Millwork: Giff in Interior & Fixture. Project management: Dunham Regroup.
what Paint: ICI/Glidden; Farrow & Ball; Benjamin Moore; Glidden Professional; Sherwin-Williams. Tile: Daltile; Ceramic Vogue. Hard flooring: Capricork. Resilient flooring: Armstrong; The Hudson Company. Carpet: Modulyss; Tretford; Kasthall. Ceilings: Armstrong; Unika Vaev; International Cellulose Corporation; Kvadrat. Recessed lighting: 3G Lighting; Amerilux; Gotham; Finelite; Luminii; Klus; New Star. Track lighting: WAC Lighting. Pendants/chandeliers: Design Within Reach; Michael Anastassiades; Bec Brittain; USAI; Eureka. Sconces: Rich Brilliant Willing; Bec Brittain; Apparatus; Michael Anastassiades. Decorative glass panels/partitions: Acrilex. Workstations: UpLift. Workstation/task seating: Herman Miller. Conference seating: Matter Made; Herman Miller; BuzziSpace; Muuto; Industry West; Knoll. Lounge/ reception seating: Herman Miller; Urban Tree; Davis; Matter Made; Andreu World; Ohio Design; Blu Dot. Cafeteria/dining seating: CB2; Muuto; Simon James; Room & Board; Industry West; Knoll; Tolix; MASHstudios. Other seating: Gus Modern; West Elm; Danish Design Store; Industry West; One Collection. Upholstery: Maharam; Moore & Giles. Conference: Urban Tree; Davis; Hem; Muuto. Cafeteria/ dining: Urban Tree; Hay. Training/ files/lockers: Herman Miller. Side tables: ABC Home; Hem; Loehr; Arteriors; HighTower; Ohio Design; Blu Dot; Skram; Bensen; YLiving; Gallotti&Radice; Uhuru. Architectural/custom woodworking: Urban Tree.