Apple is building a new corporate campus in the form of a spaceship straight out of science fiction. For its newest building, also under construction, Facebook puts a park on its Frank Gehry-designed roof. And now Google has unveiled plans for a unique expansion of its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters that would add 300,000 square meters of space.
And it is definitely different. Google plans transparent bubbles connected by walking and biking trails that wind between and through the structures. (Though, like Apple, it is taking the parking underground and bringing green pastures back to Silicon Valley. Of course, if the California drought continues, it may turn out that the only green pastures in Silicon Valley are contained in greenhouses.)
And, because Google isn’t exactly sure what businesses it will be involved in in the future, it is determined to make these workspaces extremely reconfigurable. Says Google vice president of Real Estate David Radcliffe, in a video released by the company last week, “In a traditional building, reconfiguring from office space to automotive to biotech would take months or years.”
Google plans to be able to change its plans far more quickly, with walls and floors intended to be “like Lincoln Logs,” so you “can pile them up and assemble them differently,” as Radcliffe puts it. Or like “giant pieces of furniture,” says Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who designed the new campus with English designer Thomas Heatherwick.
Of course, to move giant pieces of furniture you need a giant. Or something like a giant, say, an autonomous robotic construction crane. And that indeed is Google’s plan.
According to the San Jose Business Journal, which got an early look at the 225 pages of documents submitted to the Mountain View City Council, the floors would resemble oven racks and “Crabots”—or autonomous cranes—would stack walls and floors upon them. Google hasn’t exactly invented the Crabot yet, but it will take a while to get the campus design through the planning process before breaking ground, so the company has time to figure it out.
Around the Crabots, says Radcliffe, the plan is to “dissolve the building into a supertransparent ultralight membrane…draping it over some tent poles.” That’s gives Google a bit of harmony with the tent-like structure nearby that is the Shoreline Amphitheater, and will give me, and future journalists, the opportunity to use the “circus” metaphor for Google’s activities whenever appropriate.
Google plans to demolish current roads and parking lots and replace them with green spaces, with the goal, says Heatherwick, of creating spaces you “would choose for a weekend to be” at. Google obviously made it clear to Heatherwick and Ingels that their design would need to advance Google’s general efforts (like onsite haircuts, oil changes, and dry cleaning) to keep its employees on campus 24/7, or as close to that as possible.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.