Google and other tech companies continue HQ architecture race

Google just unveiled its plans for a new HQ design:

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 released this morning, 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.

It’s not an original idea but I was just struck by the juxtaposition of the tech companies more ethereal presence (online, information, brand status) versus their actual physical presence. The Internet may be revolutionary but how exactly do its architects and drivers translate it into physical form? Perhaps not surprisingly, into an open structure with lots of glass, light, life, and flexibility. Somewhere, however, there have to be tech companies operating in concrete Brutalist structures…

It will still be interesting to see how these buildings function. I’ve seen several articles lately about companies going to open floor formats (the anti-cubicle) even as workers don’t always like this lack of privacy. How much building flexibility is too much? Given Google’s plans, how will the architecture fit with the surrounding community of Mountain View? How many years is this expected to be used?

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