Hoping to Win Over a Town, Facebook Wants to Scrap Its Fortress Vibe


From our friends at Fast Company, "bridging the fuzzy border between design and business."
Facebook is moving from tony Palo Alto to blue-collar Belle Haven, and they want to woo residents with community-oriented design.

Some social networks still function better in the flesh, and so, on Saturday, Facebook played host to a massive "design charrette" that brought four bus loads of architects, designers and urban planners together for an all-day cram session devoted to re-imagining Menlo Park's Belle Haven community, soon-to-be home of the company's global headquarters.
[Zuckerberg with architect John Stewart]

The charrette, organized by AIA San Mateo and the city of Menlo Park (with Facebook hosting and taking home the ideas), was billed as the architectural equivalent of one of the company's legendary code-writing "hackathons." Some 150 architects, designers and students forfeited their Saturday and wired in for a 12-hour draft-a-thon that produced a bevy of ideas for connecting the isolated Facebook campus with the surrounding community and adjacent wetlands, as well as suggestions for redeveloping the area with better transit, denser mixed-use housing, and lively retail and business districts. Even the Zuck himself swung by in the morning hours to see how the web of design brains was working. John Tenanes, Facebook's director of real estate, suggested Papa Zuck was pleased with the fanfare. "He eyeballed me and said to me, 'Awesome.'"

Facebook wants to change the fortress vibe and embrace the community.

While crowd-sourcing urban-planning ideas might sound like the premise for a design-by-committee horror show, Saturday's talent was a gifted bunch of professionals who were given free rein to let their otherwise repressed design imaginations run wild. From Facebook's perspective, it was solid strategy: the company basically persuaded teams of the Peninsula's top architects to work all day pro bono in an effort to brainstorm ideas for sprucing up the new company's neighborhood digs. And while it might seem a tad unusual for a company to care so much about improving local amenities, it's ultimately a gambit that works in Facebook's favor on several fronts: employee satisfaction, lunch-hour options, community-outreach brownie points. Plus, it never hurts to dispel the stale image of Silicon Valley companies as tinted-window office parks full of tech hermits who really just wish you would leave them and their energy-drinks in peace. (Fittingly, Facebook's former Palo Alto campus was casually known as the Bunker.)

With the company slated to begin moving the first wave of employees into a sprawling corporate campus (formerly home to Sun Microsystems) as early as June, Facebook is wise for wanting to make life better for its worker bees in a competitive tech field. Belle Haven -- despite the pastoral idyll of its name -- lacks the high-income, high-gloss sheen of tony Palo Alto, the home to Facebook's current headquarters. Its demographics are dominated by Hispanic, African American and Pacific Islander communities. It projects a blue-collar vibe, with scruffy post-World War II homes on small lots, congested freeways for borders, a separate struggling school system, and very sparse retail options. A quick tour reveals a gleaming new Jack in the Box, the ubiquitous Starbucks, a handful of taquerias, nondescript industrial parks, acres of asphalt, and finally, the neglected bay front. Those are slim pickings for Facebookers emigrating from tree-lined downtown Palo Alto, with its Coach-and-Cartier shopping centers and Baumé and Chez TJ bistros.

By Ryan White. Continued in Fast Company