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[Herald Interview] ‘Samsung wants to bring idea of Silicon Valley project to Korea’

Two years on since Samsung Electronics opened its office building in Silicon Valley, the Korean tech giant has seen a dramatic change in their work style and it hopes to bring the idea to Korea, according to a partner at the US architecture firm NBBJ.

NBBJ is a firm that designed Samsung’s US building and those of many other global tech firms, including Microsoft, Amazon, Tencent and Google.

“Samsung’s Silicon Valley building is very progressive. (I think) They are learning a lot from the project and want to bring the idea to their offices in Korea,” said Robert Mankin, a partner at NBBJ overseeing the firm’s international corporate practices, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

He added adopting the idea here will eventually come, although the question of when remains. 

Robert Mankin, a partner at the US architecture firm NBBJ (NBBJ)
Robert Mankin, a partner at the US architecture firm NBBJ (NBBJ)

Samsung’s research and development center opened in San Jose -- a city in California’s Silicon Valley -- in September of 2015 to accommodate up to 2,000 employees.

Unlike Samsung’s tall, rectangle-shaped headquarters located in Korea and many other local conglomerates’ offices here, the 10-storey, cube-like building was intended to encourage more interaction among staff and invite the community on the campus. The building wrapped in a glass has courtyards in the center and is designed for many of the offices to face each other.

“Samsung was very interested in mobility (for the Silicon Valley building). They wanted their employees to actually move through the building instead of just sitting in the office,” Mankin recalled.

According to him, companies like Samsung innovating great products have to have a place where their employees can have an escape, conversation and diversion. Many US firms including Amazon are taking steps to go in the direction of open space where employees can sit anywhere without fixed desks. 

Samsung America Headquarters in San Jose, California (NBBJ)
Samsung America Headquarters in San Jose, California (NBBJ)

Two years on, Mankin said he observed that the Samsung building is used exactly how it wanted to be used with employees moving around without always sitting at the desk and most social space being used.

Samsung Vice President of displays Scott Birnbaum, was quoted as saying that his work style has changed dramatically by running into different teams and having impromptu meetings that lead to great ideas.

NBBJ has a high understanding of Korean corporate culture and the companies by working with a number of large firms, including Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, NHN and CJ, according to Mankin. The US architecture firm is currently working for Hyundai’s new headquarters, which is slated to be the tallest skyscraper in Seoul when completed in 2021.

Mankin, who has worked with Korean firms for 15 years, sees the trend that Korean firms, traditionally familiar with rows of cubicles, have now become more aware of the importance of an open and flexible work environment.

“I can see that Korean firms now have awareness that there has to be changes in order to create innovation,” the executive said.

“A lot of Korean firms are taking an incremental step -- although not big -- in the direction of giving more choices to their employees whether to work in open or closed space. Maybe you will see the differences in the next five years.”

A handful of Korean firms, including LG Uplus, Lotte and Microsoft Korea, recently pushed for a flexible work environment by removing fixed desks or giving more open space.

By Shin Ji-hye  (