The UBER Freight space truly tells the story of how our Applied Surfaces group, a division of ER2 Image Group, worked with a global architecture firm and the client to create a space filled with groundbreaking interior design and environmental graphics.
UBER wanted to consolidate several of its brands, literally under 450,000 square feet and one roof in the same building in downtown Chicago. The location would serve as the global headquarters for UBER Freight (the fleet division of UBER) as well as the regional headquarters for UBER Eats and UBER rides.
UBER Freight’s headquarters was to be housed in a building with a powerful, recognizable presence that had etched its place in Chicago’s history. The iconic Old Post Office was selected as the ideal building to accomplish that goal.
“I do think it’s officially UBER’s most awesome office.– Dara Khosrowshahi,
That’s a technical term at UBER – ‘most awesome’ is high praise.”
CEO, UBER Technologies Inc.
Back To Where It All Started
If the Old Post Office building sounds familiar as the home of another project we completed, you’re right. In a different post, we showcased how Applied Surfaces transformed the lobby area of the Old Post Office. We were proud to work on that project and bring an iconic building back to life, making it a central hub for many corporations filling the space, the largest occupant of them being UBER.
Due to the fantastic and inspired work Applied Surfaces had done to create the Old Post Office lobby, the architecture firm who worked with us on that project, Gensler, selected us to execute the UBER Freight headquarters transformation.
Returning to The Old Post Office felt like revisiting an old family friend. We were thrilled to be awarded the project. However, just as the UBER Freight headquarters project was awarded to Applied Surfaces, the rug was swiftly pulled out from underneath us:
The COVID-19 pandemic happened. Construction on the UBER project was put on hold for a year. As time passed, we didn’t even know if the office would open.
Finally, the UBER project started back up. But while the project itself was moving along, our original timeline didn’t budge an inch.
Consequently, Applied Surfaces now had a highly sophisticated build in front of us to do within one year’s time, not two years. We were also working with elements that several suppliers weren’t sure would work well with a 100+-year-old building. Certainly not without a fair amount of risk.
Environmental design. It never gets any easier. But steep challenges like these have a way of pushing Applied Surfaces to do our very best work, as you’re about to see.
How do you fit 1,800 truck mirrors in an UBER?
If there’s one aspect of the UBER Freight project that will always jump out as a focal point, it’s the fact that 1,800 actual truck mirrors line the halls of their environment. Why? The designer, Gensler, wanted an unmistakably bold element to communicate that this was Uber’s freight headquarters.
As an homage to UBER Freight, an entire hallway would have freight truck mirrors that we’d have to source and install, all at different angles.
Make no mistake: Thousands of truck mirrors wouldn’t be easy to source in the most ordinary times. By the time Applied Surfaces obtained approval to purchase all of them, the country was experiencing a full-blown supply chain issue.
At first, we were told the mirrors were “on the way.” But a week before they were scheduled to arrive, we were told that they were not coming and that there were approximately 3,000 mirrors on backorder due to supply chain issues.
Fortunately, after a lot of searching, we discovered roughly 1,800 truck mirrors left in the United States. And to be on the safe side, we bought ALL of them.
All this before the actual installation!
However, it wasn’t the end of our challenges with the truck mirrors. Upon surveying the 200-foot-long wall that would display this endless sea of mirrors, the team noticed vast differences in the length of the wall. Some parts of it measured at ½” different. Others measured as much as 1 foot differently. How would we install thousands of mirrors on a wall that wasn’t straight?
Fortunately, Applied Surfaces arrived at an installation template that utilized several lasers to get a consistent, visually straight look. It may have taken several more weeks to complete, but it was well worth it for the finished product.
The giant arching entrance in the photo above welcomes you to UBER Freight. It’s inspired by the Art Deco detail work of the Old Post Office, the Y of Chicago and the three branches of the Chicago River. We wanted a moment to connect to Chicago and its history while also acknowledging that this is the spot where the people of UBER come together.
When our team got our first good look at it, it was a 2-D rendering of its supposed appearance and the preferred materials. So how do you turn what’s on paper into a head-turning and impressive main entrance? After all, with an arching design, you couldn’t put it up in square panels.
These Puzzle Pieces Aren’t The Kind That Fit In A Box.
This was going to be one funky puzzle and the pieces required to fit perfectly were massive. Even the material supplier didn’t have a lot of confidence that meeting this challenge could be pulled off successfully if it wasn’t engineered correctly. We can’t say we blamed him for thinking that when various individual colors had to join together and line up seamlessly as each piece was being installed.
Fortunately, Applied Surfaces turned to our Engineering Department, where team member Jim Duncan discovered how to create ultra-large sections of the entrance that fit together perfectly as they were installed. But remember – just as we saw in the truck mirrors, we were dealing with a building over 100 years old where each wall wasn’t necessarily as straight as an arrow. After several weeks of engineering work, Jim had to go on the site with the 2-D rendering in tow and ensure all the seams of each section lined up without any margin for error.
Would Jim’s work pay off? Even as the arch entrance was coming together, there was still no guarantee that it would fit together as we intended. It had never been attempted and nobody knew if it could be done. But our team figured out how to make it work, complete with many wallcoverings and other sustainable elements.
The amount of engineering and design time that went into this feature alone required months of routing as well as intense collaboration between multiple parties, including designers, mill workers and the construction team.
The UBER Freight project marks another triumph by Applied Surfaces’ Managing Director, Jason Dillas. Three years ago, Dillas had the idea to build a team of visionaries that shared the same passion as him for the design of the modern workplace. Soon after, Applied Surfaces was born. And with the full support of ER2 Image Group, he’s never looked back.
“This space is a direct reflection of our team at Applied Surfaces. With what was involved in terms of the applications put in place, it pushes the environmental graphics world forward.”– Jason Dillas
Managing Director, Applied Surfaces
Did we make a wrong turn somewhere and land in O’Hare? Don’t worry. These are just a couple of the many small conference suites and conference rooms identified throughout the UBER Freight space by airport codes. These codes represent many of the cities that UBER operates. So employees can say, “Meet me in ORD” or “See you at OKC at 3 pm.”
The defining characteristic of the UBER Freight project is a classic feel in a very modern space. Nowhere is this better exemplified than when you walk up and down two main spiral staircases of UBER Freight’s office.
Here, you’ll see a large steel cylinder with the messaging in hand-bent, custom neon of “The Sky Is The Limit. Go Get It.” As you ascend the staircases, this message appears to be carried on to infinity, flipping upside down and right side up as you go up.
The sheer coordination involved in mounting a steel cylinder to the ceiling of an office in a centralized area was as big as the element itself – and this one is huge, measuring 20 feet in diameter. Applied Surfaces had to work closely with a glass manufacturer to install two-way triangular pieces of glass that had to be cut into sections pre-installation. Because, after all, a single piece of glass isn’t made this big.
Fortunately, just because it doesn’t start big doesn’t mean it can’t end big. And our installation team brought it all together on this piece in a big way.
If these tremendous black boxes that serve as meeting spaces look like shipping containers, it’s no accident. Carrying through a theme to align with UBER Freight, these meeting spaces were custom-built from millwork to scale to actual shipping containers. This is one of our favorite photos to help you truly appreciate the size of this space, particularly when you consider the magnitude of one shipping container. As you can see here, we have three of them next to each other, wall to wall.
With so many restaurant options in Chicago outside of UBER Freight’s door, there’s something to be said for providing spaces that make people still want to unwind in the office rather than outside of it. Great lettering and lighting can go a very long way in that sense – like here, in which visitors to the Kitchen and Ten Four Bar areas are greeted by neon thin-stroke lettering that is inviting and elegant in its style rather than overpowering.
You could say that this wall is not a wall at all but a portal to new perspectives from every angle. Not a bad message to have in an open and inclusive environment like UBER Freight’s.
Moire is inspired by movement and, in effect, becoming part of a movement. Nothing changes until you move yourself.
To reflect this dynamic, a series of routed aluminum holes in the wall change colors, providing the optical illusion of a wall “moving” with you. So the view is different for everybody who approaches the wall, depending on where you are and where you’re walking from.
As a matter of fact, this wall was originally intended to be a printed graphic. But then we decided that the feature wall should be comprised entirely of neon fluorescent colors.
What you see here is a series of aluminum panels, each measuring just over 11 feet tall.
The global pandemic and its impact on the supply chain challenged virtually every aspect of the project and the moire feature wall was no different. With fluorescent vinyl in increasingly short supply, Applied Surfaces’ team purchased literally the remaining rolls of fluorescent vinyl in North America.
Even then, we had just enough fluorescent vinyl material to create this powerful element of the UBER Freight space.
As our teams at ER2 and Applied Surfaces reflect on the UBER Freight project, we have an enormous amount of satisfaction as far as:
1) What we were able to accomplish in light of what the economic climate and the overall climate with the pandemic was like at that time. Frankly, the pandemic and its impact on the supply chain pushed us like no project we had ever faced. We went through everything you can imagine in a project of this scale. Especially at the time this project was kicking off.
2) The complexity of the build. The textures and materials used throughout the space are so vast and different.
Today, the UBER Freight space is one that UBER’s leadership views to be the best of all its offices and UBER Freight’s employees can be proud to belong to for a very long time.
As for us at ER2 Image Group and our Applied Surfaces team, UBER Freight is the kind of project that proves how beneficial it is to provide us with a seat at the table with architects, designers and the client as early on as possible. We look forward to having just such a conversation regarding your plans today at sales@ER2image.com or call 630-980-4567.