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Sam Stubblefield of NBBJ on “Contrarian Design”

Sam Stubblefield from NBBJ spoke with 99u about the future direction of design and why designers should think like contrarians. Having helped design corporate headquarters like Facebook and Amazon, Stubblefield understands the competitive nature of companies trying to attract top talent by creating tricked-out offices and expanding amenities and services.

Surprisingly, Stubblefield’s advice to growing companies is to avoid building at all costs; instead, get people working in shifts and largely from home. While this contradicts the nature of his role as an architect, he believes it’s the right thing to do. His antithetical approach informs many other aspects of his work, such as taking several months off a year to work on art.

When conceptualizing a building, Stubblefield says the creative process goes far beyond architecture and deep into the headspace of people who are using the building and their associations with it. Diversity is paramount in how he hires: “If you have three people who studied similar architecture and graduated from similar schools, you have little chance of getting something wild out of that group.” He looks for people who have two qualities that he equates with entrepreneurship: creativity and flexibility.

Stubblefield believes the largest influencer of architecture is transportation. The rise of self-driving cars has the ability to reshape our streets and push vehicles off the road, giving us 20 percent of our roads back. That additional space can be repurposed to create parks and other amenities to improve quality of life. 



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