Sunday, March 1, 2015

Google’s Reconfigurable, See-Through HQ


Apple is building a massive spaceship-like ring around a private eden dotted with apricot trees. Facebook is working on a forest-topped hanger, reportedly with a single room big enough to house 3,400 workers. Now, we have our first glimpse of what Google’s envisioning for its own futuristic headquarters: A series of see-through, tent-like structures, draped in glass, whose interior workspaces can be reconfigured on a massive scale according to the company’s needs.

In a new video , Google showed off an ambitious proposal for a future North Bayshore campus in Mountain View. The concept was produced by the firms of Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels, two of architecture’s fastest rising stars. Heatherwick Studio, based in the UK, was responsible for the torch at the London Olympics. The Bjarke Ingels Group, based in Denmark, is working on a trash-to-power plant in Copenhagen that will double as a ski slope.

The plan they came up with for Google is every bit as radical as one would expect. As Bjarke Ingels puts it, the structures proposed for the new campus would do away with rigid walls and roofs and instead “dissolve the building into a simple, super-transparent, ultra-light membrane.” Inside, giant layers could be stacked, Lincoln Log-style, into different work environments, using a fleet of small cranes and robots. Plant life is suffused throughout the campus, indoors and out.

The proposal will undoubtedly add to the on-going, often-contentious discussion around where today’s Silicon Valley giants reside—and where their employees live. Google already owns over 7 million square feet of office space in Mountain View, spread out over 80-some properties. It employs 15,000 people there. Its presence has been a tax windfall for the city of 80,000, but it’s also sent residential real estate prices soaring and contributed to nasty traffic.

The video touches on this topic, if vaguely, suggesting that the campus could serve not just Google but the public, too. It’s unclear what exactly that could mean at this stage, but if they’re serious about it, that could mark an interesting shift. In Cupertino, Apple is building a beautiful, seamless campus, hermetically sealed to all outsiders. Google, as it has in other areas in the past, seems to see value in a more open approach.