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In the Fold: Autodesk news and opinions

Autodesk’s new home infuses innovation into Central Eastside Industrial District

By Greg Fallon

How do you stay on the forefront of tech innovation? You make sure you are in a place where you can both build empathy with your customers and be inspired by people solving similar tech challenges. Sometimes that means picking up and moving; which is exactly what we did at Autodesk Portland.

The big tech companies in the Silicon Forest have traditionally been located on the fringes of the city; either in large suburban campuses or in large suburban office parks. Meanwhile, our customers and peers – the product designers and manufacturers and the upcoming cloud software community – are increasingly found in evolving urban cores.

We decided to join them. Specifically, we wanted to be in the epicenter of the ‘making things’ world and that was – and is again – the Central Eastside.

Next, we found a building that embodies the history of making things. The Towne Storage Building is a beautiful red brick building that is an icon illustrating Portland’s industrial history. A highly visible landmark that is seen by tens of thousands of people every day was the perfect place to start the next chapter of Autodesk in this city.

We used our own tools – ReCap, 3ds Max, InfraWorks, BIM 360, Revit and Revit Live – to create a virtual prototype of the building to guide the design and buildout of the interior. Through this process we developed customer empathy – especially for the architects and builders! We even identified and avoided several potential problems in the construction process.

While the outside of the building was getting a facelift, we wanted to make the inside a place where people wanted to come and work. To make it even more compelling, we decided to bring the employees into the design process.

How do you get 200 employees to help guide an architect on design without driving them crazy? We relied on human-centered design practices to get feedback on all aspects from colors and themes to the use of space.

It became apparent that employees wanted to create an environment that represented both Autodesk’s culture and the unique character of Portland. To do this, we engaged local makers and used locally sourced materials, including Doug fir reclaimed from Centennial Mills across the Willamette River. Reclaimed wood was also used by a local, semi-retired couple to design and build a set of picnic tables that have become a popular feature in our new space.

Going even further, interior features were inspired by what Autodesk customers do. The main staircase, for example, is based on a rough machined metal part.

Beyond the ability to bring ourselves closer to this community, we found a unique way to bring them even closer to us. One floor is dedicated to the PIE Shop, a residency program formed in collaboration with Portland design and product agency Uncorked Studios and the accelerator Portland Incubator Experiment. Startups in the program have access to our employees for help and inspiration, can use our space and technology to imagine what their products will look like, and figure out what machines and tools will be needed to make them.

We have also agreed to be the home base of the Innovation Quadrant in Portland. This group brings together a diverse community of innovators, educators and creators who are committed to designing and creating products that improve the world. This dovetails nicely with Autodesk’s vision to imagine, design, and make a better world.

I am so inspired by the connection between Autodesk’s mission and the proud industrial history of our new neighborhood.

All of us here are excited to see what comes next.


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