Among the next generation, the tech world keeps a beady eye on Google to see what it’s up to. This company dominates California’s Silicon Valley. So how cool are the Google buildings at Mountain View HQ?
Could be better. Google’s David Radcliffe, Vice President, Real Estate and Workplace Services, explains: “Tech hasn’t adopted a particular language for new buildings. We’ve just found old buildings; we’ve moved into them and made do as best we could.”
So as it did with technology, Google is innovating its next generation workspaces, starting with Mountain View. It’s also building its biggest campus outside the USA in India, the company’s first in Asia.
With Mountain View this time round, it wants to give back to the environments it occupies. Fully. So that it is available to the local community, for people to be able to cycle and walk through, where cars appear not so dominant or so visible.
How’s this going to be done?
For its California HQ, Google has commissioned a top architect and a leading designer to work with it. The first is Danish Bjarke Ingels, the founding partner of the Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG. The second is Thomas Heatherwick, founder of Heatherwick Studio, who designed the Olympic Cauldron for the 2012 London Olympics.
Bjarke Ingels pays attention to function and form, seeking to integrate architecture into the community, and Thomas Heatherwick creates designs of exquisite beauty. The two meet with a shared care and concern for the workspace object that lifts them into the top category of new architects and designers.
Add to this Google’s mission as stated by Radcliffe: “What we’ve tried to do is take a step back, and say, ‘How do buildings work with nature?’ Not just for Googlers, but it’s for anyone who lives in the area to come by.”
And, as he says, with the three companies working together, Google hopes that it will be “giving something back to the world that they didn’t have before we started”. The idea behind the project is explained by Thomas Heatherwick in an inspirational video for Googleplex. “A motivator for the work we’re doing now is to be generous – you can provide facilities that can be shared with people.”
The overall design for the new HQ is full of trees and parkland, with occasional structures that appear temporary – and are. They will consist of layers that can be de-erected and moved around to other parts of the zone, swathed in an especially strong see-through cover that can also be removed. The workspaces will be light and airy.
When Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels started to think about how Mountain View could be brought up to date, they noticed that the nature in the sprawling grounds was pretty buried.
“There were lots of trees but there was a constant undermining of that by the road structure and infrastructure required for all of those cars,” Heatherwick says.
Bjarke felt that the place had been turned into a series of parking lots and that it was time to reverse that process. “We want to...recreate some of the natural qualities that have been there in the first place; transform the sea of parking into a sort of natural landscape where you’ll find an abundance of green both outside, but also inside.” He wants to create the diversity and liveliness of an urban neighbourhood, shown in the video with constructions like covered curved stages such as those used for concerts and talks.
Thomas Heatherwick vividly describes the designs of the soft bubble-like structures where Google will place its workers in temporary structures. He describes planning to “dissolve the building into a simple super transparent ultra light membrane, creating a glass fabric, and draping it across tent poles”.
Finally, cutting to the chase, a section of the video where the three protagonist’s words are edited together explains exactly how the idea will work. There will be, they say, a humanistic spirit, through “greenhouses that enclose and protect pieces of nature next to ecologically sensitive areas”, “we will pull back buildings and create wildlife habitats”, “we’re restoring waterways that bring water out to the bay. We’ll create a neighbourhood in Mountain View.” They also explain that the public will move through the buildings too.
They continue: “The architecture of the building becomes like giant pieces of furniture that can be connected in different ways”, “you can pile them up and assemble them differently.”
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