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The Space Needle is visible in the distance beyond the lighting over a dramatic stairwell that connects all 28 floors of office space in F5 Tower in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In a bid to wow and win over customers, F5 Networks put a splashy Customer Engagement Center on the top floor of its gleaming new 48-story office tower in downtown Seattle. In a bid to wow and win over 1,500 employees, the special touches and perks continue for 27 floors below.

The move by the network infrastructure and security technology company into new office space is one of many happening in the Seattle region as companies jockey for premiere real estate in their ongoing attempt to lure the best tech talent. GeekWire got a look inside F5 Tower on Wednesday — and a look out at the sweeping views afforded by such a dramatic move.

Founded in Seattle more than 23 years ago, F5 is valued at nearly $9 billion and is one of the region’s major employers but flies under the radar thanks in part to the behind-the-scenes technical nature of its work.

The company is in the midst of years-long transition — helped by its $670 million acquisition of NGINX earlier this year — from making hardware to serve customers running data centers to focusing on software for customers running on public cloud infrastructure from providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

And now F5’s presence in Seattle is surely more noticeable.

For F5, moving into a vertical space runs counter to what some others are opting for across the tech landscape. Expedia, for instance, is in the midst of moving its workforce out of a tower in Bellevue, Wash., to a sprawling waterfront campus in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. Microsoft, a mainstay of the leafy suburban ideal when it comes to tech life, is keeping its vast footprint in Redmond, Wash., but “rebooting” it in a massive upgrade project.

Employees play pool in a gaming area while others hold a meeting at F5. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The F5 Tower as seen in Seattle’s skyline, to the left of the tall Columbia Center. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Regardless of what F5’s new space looks like — which it leased for more than 14 years at $359.5 million — getting there and getting out were among the chief concerns of employees as the survey process started five years ago at the company’s previous headquarters near Lower Queen Anne.

“A lot of employees wanted better commutes, more access to freeways, more access to public transportation, closer access and proximity to different things in the city as well,” said Ana White, F5 executive vice president and chief human resources officer. “This tower solved for all of that.”

Jay Phillips, senior director of global workplace solutions for F5, said there was a “3 o’clock anxiety” that struck every day when it came to pondering the trip home from previous offices on Elliott Avenue West.

“I can appreciate what Expedia is doing for that campus environment,” Phillips said of the travel giant’s new HQ just north of F5’s old space. “But in order to hit it out of the park … transit options and a plethora of amenities were the main drivers.”

The perimeter of the office space along all windows can be used by employees in a variety of gathering areas. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
A view from F5 Tower, with Rainier Square under construction and the Space Needle in the distance. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The location seems to be working. Phillips said the company was at 55 percent single car drivers before the move, and that number has dropped to under 25 percent.

Movement within the building is also impressive. Vertical office space is often criticized because it separates departments and employees by floors and the need for constant elevator rides can be time consuming.

Along with the architecture firm NBBJ, F5 worked to build in a critical design element it’s calling “internal communicator stairs.” From the 20th floor where F5 offices start, employees can reach the top floor via a spiraling, sculptural staircase that serves as an unimpeded 28-story “interaction zone” for the company.

The stairs are used to connect “neighborhoods” within F5 Tower and help employees avoid using elevators. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The stairs are built in three-story stacks, rotating as they move up throughout the structure for a total of nine stacks. The 515,000 square feet of office space includes collaborative spaces every third floor, whether it’s eating, lounging, gaming or any other type of gathering to attract connectivity.

There are 59 meeting rooms and 290 rooms for collaboration, focus and phone calls. The oddly shaped tower — an architectural nod to Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — has smaller-than-normal floor plates and features floor-to-ceiling glass with unobstructed views in all directions. There are no offices jammed up against windows anywhere, giving employees access to the best views of the Space Needle, Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains or the stadiums and more.

The stairs are used to connect “neighborhoods” with conference rooms and gathering spaces that named for famous authors, inventors, musicians or sports figures depending on the neighborhood. A [Jimi] Hendrix room and a [J.K.] Rowling room were spotted, for instance. A “pinwheel” effect ensures that workspaces are in the corners of the building to maximize views out.

Large photographs of employees are featured throughout. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Meeting rooms and quiet spaces are named for various personalities, such as rock legend Jimi Hendrix. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

“A lot of cities, when you’re sitting in a building, you’re staring directly across the street at another building, you have no sense of orientation, no sense of the city and energy that’s happening. We lose a sense of the time of day,” said Ryan Mullenix, a design partner at NBBJ. “By creating the pinwheel, you’re always in a corner, you have the long view across the city or down the street. And you never feel isolated at your desk.”

Dimmable lighting and the variety of fixtures were a primary design concern throughout. Colorful chairs and couches are everywhere, and booth seating — a mainstay in tech offices these days — features heavily. There are puzzles stenciled on walls and morse code built into lights on one floor, signaling the location of an F5 office somewhere else in the world depending on the direction you’re facing.

A wide array of artwork decorates all of the spaces, and there are black and white photographs of employees working or interacting which serve as a nice reminder of the many different people spread out over the 28 stories.

A design pattern in and around elevators evokes champagne bubbles. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Engineers can’t help injecting that geek culture. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

A circular design pattern in elevators and the ceilings around elevator banks is meant to mimic champagne bubbles — another Hepburn touch from the building’s designer ZGF Architects. And in the ground-floor lobby, which will be separate from an entrance for a hotel going into the lower floors, an elaborate light fixture blinks in different colors and is programmable depending on events or visitors.

Back on the 48th floor, the view north toward the Space Needle now includes the rapidly rising Rainier Square project. Customers are greeted by high-tech digital touches keyed by RFID tags in the visitor badges they wear. A sci-fi-inspired touch screen station and curved video display allows for fancy presentations with the city and views as a backdrop.

Dmitry Risukhin, director of F5 customer engagement, left, and Marius Marcu, senior product manager, show off the 48th floor technology. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Dmitry Risukhin, director of customer engagement for F5, was in charge of the space meant to make customers feel especially invited during meetings with everyone from sales people to the CEO. He loves what he and his team have built so much that rather than take the company up on the option to sometimes work from home, he can’t wait to get to work.

“From the first day we were pushing for this to be on the top floor, because there’s a good symbolic value in that — customers come first,” Risukhin said. “We wanted this to be functional as a meeting space. But we also wanted this to be exciting and emotionally interesting.”

And because Seattle is a capital of the cloud industry, customers are flocking to the city and getting bombarded with information from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and others.

“We want them to remember that time at F5,” Risukhin said.

Check out more photos below:

(GeekWire Photos / Kurt Schlosser)

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