O+A and London: A Love Story

There’s an 8-hour time difference between London and San Francisco, so when in 2011 the winner was announced in the Workspace Environment category at the FX Awards at Mayfair’s Grosvenor House Hotel, it was mid-afternoon on Howard Street. “Um… we f-ing won!!!!” was the email that landed at O+A’s office direct from the gala where Primo and Verda, Denise and Perry were celebrating. A whoop went up in the office and for a few moments 8 hours could not dissipate the shared ebullience of what was then a smaller, more rambunctious O+A. A tiny firm south of Market and yet, there we were in London picking up Britain’s most coveted design award for Aol’s West Coast headquarters in Palo Alto.

As O+A goes back to London for this year’s gala—nominated this time in the Museum or Exhibition Space category for our speculative workplace-of-the-future at Salone del Mobile in Milan—it feels like we’re dropping in on old friends. Or is it meeting up again with an old love? “I volunteer to head up the London office,” is a long-running joke at O+A (and for some of us not really a joke). The city has been a constant through the firm’s history, a symbol of our highest aspirations and the place to which we consistently return to test ourselves and stretch our wings.

O+A’s first project outside the U.S. was Shopping.com’s London office. At the programming meeting when the Brits lit up cigarettes (back then every London office, pub, restaurant, movie theatre, even tube train did its thing in a cloud of smoke), health-conscious Verda threw open the window and waved the noxious billows away. And they didn’t sack us!

When Primo and Verda were first beginning to speak at design events, London was an early destination. Primo at Worktech explaining open plan to a roomful of tweedy London business folk; Verda at the British Library on a panel with the Royal Institute of British Architects, talking about where workplace was going—where better to hone your public speaking chops than in the city of Winston Churchill and Ricky Gervais?

In 2015, O+A sent 14 designers to erect an installation celebrating West Coast design at the London Design Festival. Our venue was a few square feet (I beg your pardon—metres) of indistinct floor space in an abandoned art school on Southampton Row. We shared the building with a bevy of other exhibitors, most of whom were selling products, while we were selling nothing but our own sunny outlook and youthful expertise. Turned out that was two things rainy old London is always eager to buy—sunshine and youth.

Now as we head back to London for another FX gala—our fourth—and rev up on a project with Artifice Books, a London publisher specializing in design and architecture, it’s a pleasure to know that Mayfair, Islington, Shoreditch, Southwark, the West End and Hampstead Heath remain relevant to O+A’s future, as they are always alive and pulsing in our memories and city-loving hearts.