New Mega HQ: Apple, Amazon, Google & Facebook

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How do I show you what’s happening in architecture today?  By showing you what four of the most cash-rich American technology companies are building for their corporate campuses.

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This week, city approvals came for Apple’s mega corporate headquarters.

Steve Jobs described his childhood in California’s Santa Clara (now Silicon) Valley, as old California hills with eucalyptus trees and apricot orchards that made the area a kind of earthly paradise. London’s Foster + Partners, in collaboration with Kier & Wright, designed a four story circular ring building, which Jobs described as a “spaceship”, on the 176 acre parcel which is to be surrounded and filled by over 6000 trees with bike paths and a lake.

Dai Sugano

The 2.8 million-square-foot Apple headquarters will contain up to 14,000 employees.  Structures include a corporate fitness center, 1000 seat auditorium for product unveilings, and a four-story parking garage. The garage roof’s 700,000 square feet of solar panels will produce 8 megawatts of power, making it a net-zero energy building— that is, using no energy from the grid. The plans also include a 600-seat restaurant with four-story glass sliding doors. Fruit from the campus’ orchards are to be used in the dining facilities.

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During a 2011 presentation to the Cupertino City Council, Jobs stated, “This is not the cheapest way to build something… there is not a straight piece of glass in this building.” He continued, “We have a shot… at building the best office building in the world. I really do think that architecture students will come here to see it.” 

Similar to the high-end materials and designs used in its retail stores, Apple’s campus will feature many lavish touches, including towering panes of curved glass to outline the building, ceilings of polished concrete, and terrazzo floors more common in “museums and high-end residences,” rather than corporate offices, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Jobs insisted on a minuscule 1/32nd of an inch clearance for detailing–for most American construction projects, 1/8th of an inch is standard.  All said, the price tag will reportedly be close to $5 billion– which is more than $1,500 per square foot.

Dai Sugano

Ok, so their building a very expensive corporate office/museum. But the building will have no connection to the rest of the city. Employees are likely never to leave the building for lunch. The trees and fencing around the site will allow few views of the structure. They are eliminating several public streets creating a super-block, which most urban planners agree today is poor planning due to traffic flows.

And it’s hard to imagine anything less green than tearing down dozens of existing structures, totaling some 2.65 million square feet, to make way for a new building of almost the same size.

Also, the ring is about a mile around, and half mile across in the center, so employees will either walk a whole lot or be discouraged from collaborating with others on the enormous campus.

Moving on, let’s see what Amazon has in store for Seattle:

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Seattle city planners this week approved the design by architect NBBJ for Amazon’s second phase of their 3.3 million square foot mega-campus.  It includes a 65,000 square foot, 38-story office tower.

However, the most interesting item presented was three interconnected, asymmetrical steel and glass Catalan-sphere modules, 80-95 feet high, which will serve as the centerpiece for three new skyscrapers that will house a rapidly growing workforce in downtown Seattle. 

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The 5 story spheres will enclose an atrium with lavish landscaping, dining, and work spaces for Amazon employees working alone or in groups. There also will be Amazon shops, which is highly notable due to the fact that the company has always been a virtual store.

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The high-rise tower next to the spheres will feature orange laminated glass on a lower portion of the building with translucent-blue laminated glass above.  Phase two is scheduled to open in 2016.

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Between the office tower and sphere building will be an “activity field,” and a dog park. Bicyclists will be able to use a bike-only path on Seventh Avenue directly to one of the tower’s entrances. Sidewalk cafes and streetcar complete the idyllic sounding picture.

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Construction is already under way on the first phase, which includes a high-rise office tower and a shorter Amazon auditorium. This phase is scheduled to open in 2015. The company has more than tripled in size in the past three years, reaching 97,000 employees at last count. The company also is reportedly planning to occupy a large chunk of a new project in Vancouver, B.C.

Amazon's new digs in Vancouver
Amazon’s new digs in Vancouver

Next, Google’s Bay View in Silicon Valley:

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Just minutes by bicycle from its current Googleplex in Mountain View, California, will be a new 1.1-million-square-foot headquarters, accommodating as many as 5,000 workers on 42 acres leased from NASA, directly on San Francisco Bay.

Google being the great accumulator of data on the planet, it studied and quantified how its employees work, what kind of spaces they wanted, and how much it mattered for certain groups to be near certain other groups.

It was designed by Seattle architect NBBJ as nine boomerang-shaped glass-clad buildings of three-to-five stories, with green roofs, connected by bridges and arranged around several “outdoor rooms.” These will include a quad, piazza, garden, and overlook. The piazza is a place where events can take place throughout the day, and food trucks could pull in, said Ryan Mullenix, a principal with NBBJ. The garden and overlook areas are more quiet, contemplative spaces.

The interiors will continue the Google aesthetic, a casual and quirky work environment with a mix of work spaces and communal spaces that encourage spontaneous meetings. They typically have gourmet cafes, workout gyms, treadmills with tablets attached, pool tables, bowling alleys, sofas and huddle rooms.

The complex will be linked by an elevated bicycle track and pedestrian bridges overlooking the courtyards. Their plan is that no employee will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk away from any colleague, a design aimed at encouraging collaboration.

They are pursuing a LEED platinum certification. The goal of the complex is “to provide the healthiest environment possible,” said David Bennett, head of Google’s Green Team Operations. They plan 100 percent outdoor air circulation. The long buildings only 78 feet wide bathing most areas in energy-saving daylight.

Local landscape architect Cheryl Barton will reintroduce elements of native habitat and restore eight acres of bayside salt marshes that Google will open to the public. The company has said it will clean all of its storm-water runoff as well as some waste water before releasing it into the bay. Only 5 percent of the land will be covered with office space, and 15 percent reserved for wetland recovery areas.

Google is only providing 2 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of office – 30% less than normal three spaces per 1,000 square feet. Only 2,200 parking spaces will be built. That’s the result of an aggressive car-reduction program; Google projects 50 percent of workers will not arrive by car.  And, contrary to most suburban office parks, most cars will be hidden underground.

This week, the project, which had already started construction, was delayed by one year. The company would only comment that it was to perfect design issues.  However, some have rumoured that they may add housing to the mix.

Finally, take a look at Facebook’s new digs with architect Frank Gehry: 

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Already broken ground in Menlo Park, the project will stretch across the long 22-acre site connecting via an underground tunnel beneath the Bayfront Expressway to the company’s current headquarters. 

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Gehry eschewed his stylish curves for a design that will essentially look like the California hillside, as the structure will be largely hidden by lush landscaping elements and green roof park.

The building is essentially an exceptionally long, 10-acre “room” on pilings over parking decks. The space is fluid and has not been over-programmed: work benches “line up in curving arcs like swarming fish”, loosely organizing the 420,000 square foot building into “neighborhoods” that softly flow into each other to foster a collaborative, community-like environment.

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Facebook West will provide every luxury expected from a modern office space, from a flexible open floor plan, to arcade-filled lounge areas and a massive roof garden. Gehry said skylights and clerestories in the 26-foot-high ceilings would shower the vast space with daylight.

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English: Apple's headquarters at Infinite Loop...
English: Apple’s headquarters at Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Seattle.View.from.Harbour.avenue (Photo credit: bonacheladas)
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