Zurich, Schweiz

Over the course of about ten years, the Swiss running shoe manufacturer On has developed from a start-up to a global brand. To further expand, but without losing the company’s DNA, On grouped its employees together in a new high-rise building in Zurich-West. The building can accommodate up to a thousand people, offering sufficient space for On to continue its growth and when necessary expand into the top five floors, which are currently leased to external companies. The interior was designed by the architectural firms Spillmann Echsle from Zurich and Specific Generic from Stockholm in close cooperation with On. For the furnishings, fittings and overall design, the sports company relied on the expertise and product diversity of Vitra.
Spillmann Echsle Architekten AG
Interior architecture
Specific Generic
Eduardo Perez
Even in the first larger-scale office where On took up residence in 2016, the focus was on making the corporate culture visible – and that included the physical movement of employees. The company founders had a clear vision of how On interiors should look and function: they were determined to prevent On from feeling like an ordinary company and wanted to break away from the conventions of normal office life. On already teamed up with Vitra at the time to develop a functioning concept and ensure its effective implementation.

Six years later and following tremendous growth, On has now moved to a new office building in Zurich and again has chosen Vitra as its partner for the planning and implementation of the furnishings. The company’s requirements have changed since the initial collaboration: first, it is infinitely more difficult to maintain the corporate culture of an agile start-up with an ever-increasing number of employees – especially in a new 17-storey building. And second, while the old working environment was an open elongated space, deliberately structured to promote social interaction and regular movement, the principle of 'activity and interaction' now had to be transferred from the horizontal to the vertical, across 17 floors.

The new office landscape is designed to promote this culture of movement and serendipitous encounters. To ensure that new employees do not feel lost and overwhelmed, On has divided the building into a series of ‘villages’, each extending over three floors and providing a home base for around 100 to 150 employees. According to behavioural psychology, individuals can comfortably develop relationships within a group of up to 150 people and feel a sense of belonging. They can integrate more quickly, learn from one other, and provide mutual support and encouragement. Each village has a well-equipped micro-kitchen and zones for concentrated work and collaboration as well as spaces in which to relax and unwind. Confidential discussions are conducted in the meeting rooms fitted with round windows that look out onto the office landscape. To keep things agile and dynamic, there are no fixed workstations in this open-plan space.
An active building

'Of course we want the Villages to mix and mingle, and so we also focus on cross-Village "tourism" and have put certain infrastructure only on certain floors. This creates a balance where you feel like you have a home base but you are also part of a larger ecosystem,' explains Nicolas Martin, head of On's Retail Expansion and Office Spaces team. Part of the company’s initial start-up mode is also that everyone can see what everyone else is doing and everyone understands the big picture. To this end, a ‘trail’ was developed, leading from the ground floor to the top floor. To keep employees physically and mentally active, On has broken up the floor structure of the building.

The long trail serves not only as a connection between the individual villages, but also as a vertical extension of the office. It begins in the flagship store as a prominent staircase and zigzags upwards, leading to spiral staircases that connect the office floors at various points. Many highly visible co-working spaces have been positioned along the path, as well as interesting and inspirational elements called 'gems'. Here and there, employees and visitors encounter works of art, such as a hanging tree, a rock garden or a light tube that replicates the curve of a running track, as well as a small On Museum exhibiting various prototypes and test models of different shoes. It is these types of surprises that enrich and enhance the path, as if on a hike. Specific spaces tell a story and reveal the inner workings and functioning of On. Staff can take the trail to access specific villages while they are on the phone, or simply as a way to clear the mind and activate the body. The individual zones and spaces throughout the building are open and flowing, mirroring the flat hierarchies at On.
Communal spaces

The building and its furnishings are conceived for communication. The ground floor is designed to invite the community to visit – be it groups of sports enthusiasts, On employees, or simply people who work or live in the neighbourhood or want to visit the space. The cafeteria, bakery and On’s flagship store are open to the public. Through this concept of openness and accessibility, On's brand philosophy is also transported to the outside world. On one floor, long wooden tables allow employees to eat lunch together, fostering a spirit of exchange. Everyone in the building is welcome to enjoy the roof garden, with its dense and flourishing mix of herbs, berries and small trees.
‘No one comes back to the office just for a desk. At On Labs, we focus on social interaction among our diverse team. Living our culture together ensures that we remain innovative and creative.’
David Allemann, Co-Founder On
Together with Vitra, the architects designed a multifunctional and adaptable work environment. ‘At On, everything is always in flux and constantly changing,’ comments David Allemann. ‘We therefore wanted an office that embraces this spirit and can change and adapt.’ The office tables from the Joyn series by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are sometimes arrayed in an elongated linear configuration and sometimes clustered in small groups. A sofa landscape provides a place to relax and enjoy some downtime, but can also be used for small presentations. . In the customer service department, the mood changes. A light pink-red wall-to-wall carpet creates a calm atmosphere. Desks from Konstantin Grcic’s Hack series ensure privacy and concentration thanks to the integrated partitions. To ensure that the layout can be easily adapted to new circumstances and ever-changing teams, 50% of the space on each floor is highly flexible – with agile furnishings and easily movable partitions.

Special solutions and classics

Informal and unconventional are the keywords that define the interior design concept, allowing On to preserve its start-up spirit despite continuing growth. The architects designed a number of special solutions to respond to the needs of the sports brand and strengthen its identity. One room can be closed with a garage door to create a different setting where new ideas can flourish. A meeting space is walled off with glass blocks, behind which plants are growing. 

The understated design is executed in aluminium and glass, with accents set by the interior fittings. ‘It was very important to us that the furnishings functioned in a similar way to a running shoe,’ says Thilo Alex Brunner, designer at On. ‘It has to be extremely ergonomic and of exceptional quality, and it also has to be fun.’ Thanks to Vitra’s broad product portfolio, it was possible to find suitable furniture for all the different spaces and their diverse uses. Transversal products – sofas for the home that are robust enough for the office or task chairs with a design that also looks good in the home office – ensure a relaxed, inviting atmosphere that increases the well-being of employees and in turn their productivity. Vitra design classics also feature throughout the building, and certain items of furniture have been adapted and customised by On. The sofa from the Soft Modular series, for example, is printed with a topographical map. On has even designed its own stool with a seat made from recycled shoe soles – closing the loop between sports, fashion and furniture design.
Product overview

Running together - A conversation with John Kuilman

‘On really benefits from a communal working environment as it helps us share ideas in a more informal way. That's where innovation starts, which stands at the core of On.’