Pac-Man Grows Up
Elizabeth Blish Hughes -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
With its undulating red walls and dramatic spotlights, the reception area at Namco Bandai Games America feels like a 3-D video game, intense and ready for action. It's as if Paul Phoenix—a character from Namco's Tekken fighter game—might pop up from behind a corner, punching and kicking his way through this Silicon Valley headquarters by Garcia + Francica. Starting 25 years ago with Pac-Man, Namco has been responsible for some of the video-game industry's biggest innovations, including Soulcalibur and Tamagotchi. The company's North American division recently made two major moves: merging with Bandai Co. and moving out of digs that were bland (high cubicles) and maddening (iffy HVAC and power). For the new 51,000-square-foot office, which occupies one floor of a building in Santa Clara, California, principals Michael Garcia and Farid Tamjidi captured the heart-thumping excitement of the company's high-tech products and a corporate ethos that considers play a "supreme human ideal."
"We deliberately chose that saturated red to acknowledge the company's Japanese origins and also to remove you from where you are," Garcia explains. "When you step off the elevator, it feels as if you're in a video game."
The game starts in a 1,500-square-foot reception area, which is all curves. A long desk of ebonized walnut bows gently, luring people in. The company logo, illuminated by recessed incandescents, floats on a subtly curved tan wall. A white translucent glass oculus punctuates one red concave wall—the Japanese flag in reverse.
Visitors can play actual video games on a projection screen while sitting on reception's half-moon sofa. The projector is hidden in the tilted ceiling, which rises from 7 to 12 feet. At its highest point, the building's structural steel is exposed.
Living-room environments reappear in the form of the three "development" lounges. These brainstorming pods—designed to double as crash pads at crunch time—allow game designers to test-drive their work on CD and DVD players and game consoles, all stored in low credenzas set beneath flat-screen plasma TVs. Designers can also make notes on the "write" walls.
Two conference rooms have glass walls for writing, projection screens, and ceiling-mounted projectors. The executive conference room introduces darker tones via black-walnut furniture.
Outside the conference rooms and lounges, Garcia + Francica pronounced "game over" for Namco's former cube culture. It's been replaced by rows of open workstations, their continuous white desk surfaces divided only by 12-inch-high clip-on screens in red, orange, or gray. Permitting flexibility from project to project and facilitating impromptu meetings, this setup also makes for more distractions. But the game designers find that they like being able to overhear other people's discussions. When your work is about play, you never know where the next idea will come from.