The home garage is the design template for many start-up offices

Dense floor plans, tinker’s toys, junky desks, and pizza boxes. There’s a reason why many start-up offices look so homely. They’re built to the design template of a garage.

San Francisco-based architect Hattie Stroud made the observation during the recent Vitra International Architects’ Day conference, as she tried to explain why the carport is so alluring a design metaphor, and especially for Silicon Valley tech start-ups. “In the American psyche, the garage is a place of possibility and refuge. It offers the space to make a mess and to tinker. It is a space of refuge for teenage angst and mid-life crises,” Stroud said. She cited a joint-researchinitiative by Stanford University, Northeastern University, and WRNS Studio where she works.

The garage figures in the foundational myth of many top tech companies, Stroud points out. For instance, engineers Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard famously began HP in an 8 ft x 18 ft shed in Palo Alto (pdf, p. 2) in 1938, with the encouragement of their Stanford University professor Frederick Terman. That one-car garage, which is attached to a bungalow once owned by Packard and his wife Lucille, is hailed as the “birthplace of Silicon Valley.” (Incidentally, HP calls its innovation blog, “The Garage“.)

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Similarly, Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google in a rented garage in Menlo Park. The company later bought the three-bedroom house to which the garage was attached. It’s now occasionally used for product launches. The garage of Steve Job’s childhood home in Los Altos, California is believed to be where he created Apple Computer Company with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. In 2013, that garage was designated a historic landmark by the city’s historical commission, but Wozniak later clarified that it was used as a testing space and a hangout rather than a lab.