Self-driving cars are no longer a far-flung prophecy; they’re descending upon our roads, dominating conversations about the future of mobility, and becoming a fascinating urban and UX design problem. Uber has been behind some of the biggest autonomous driving pushes—and blunders—in the past year and conducts much of its research, development, and mad-scientist experiments from its Advanced Technologies Group Center in Pittsburgh.
The gleaming new office and machine shop designed by Assembly, a new architecture firm based in San Francisco, was conceived as a celebration of technology. Eric Meyhofer, who heads autonomous vehicle ventures at Uber, told the firm: “I want you to be able to worship the car. I want you to know the tangible thing you are creating, that you are building the city of the future,” says Denise Cherry, one of Assembly’s principals. “We took that idea to mean celebrating the city, which is integral to Uber’s culture: You’re building the city of the future, which is this highly evolved robotic thing in what’s formerly the City of Steel.”
The space itself embodies Uber’s vision and is designed to foster their hardware and software development, as employees work on both the algorithms that will tell autonomous vehicles what to do along with the mechanics and robotics that will execute the commands. “All offices are marketing for companies,” writes Co.Design’s Diana Budds, “and we can speculate about what Uber wants to say with this one: Autonomous vehicles are the coming wave, they’re state-of-the-art tech developed in state-of-the-art facilities, and they’re a nice shiny thing worth coveting.”