Microsoft Closes Its Boutique Design Firm Pioneer Studios

Late last week, while the city of Seattle was upping its coolness points by unveiling plans for its own High Line, with High Line co-designer James Corner there to show off his ideas (calm down, Witold), across town, there was the quiet shut down of one of its more hip design firms. Cnet got the scoop that software giant Microsoft has shut down Pioneer Studios, ” a skunkworks operation to develop consumer electronics and experience” (think: the company’s less-hidden equivalent of Jonathan Ive‘s top secret Apple bunker/cave/floating city). The side project firm had just been open for three years, founded by longtime Microsoft employee J. Allard, who helped launch the company’s original, and insanely successful Xbox game system, and had recently been working on projects like Microsoft’s answer to the iPad, the Courier tablet, which the company ultimately decided to cancel. Here’s a bit about the original birth and residence of Pioneer:

The idea behind Pioneer was to breathe a culture of innovation into the all-too-often stolid company. As it’s grown, Microsoft has become increasingly bureaucratic, a place where creativity could often be crushed under a mountain of meetings and dependencies on other Microsoft products.

That’s one reason why Pioneer opened in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, a creative hub at the southern edge of downtown and some 16 miles from Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters. The company hired SkB Architects to design the 36,000-square foot space and spared little expense. The location offered huge open spaces, dotted with cushy Eames lounge chairs, angular white desks, blond wood floors, and exposed brick walls.

If you’re curious, here are some photos of the office. And for the reason why Pioneer no more, Cnet speculates that the studio was closed because Allard left Microsoft last year, and without his ability to fight off its behemoth parent, it was only a matter of time before the unit would be folded.