Facebook's New Headquarters Are a Flash From the Past, Not a Glimpse of the Future

Facebook's headquarters is Menlo Park is a sprawling building surrounded by a parking lot. FABIO ISIDORO [CC by 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, the Connecticut General Life Insurance company moved into its new headquarters, which had been designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, one of the top corporate architectural firms in America at the time. Alexandra Lange describes it as "an architecturally distinguished, technologically advanced retreat from the city, one complete enough to include its own grounds, its own restaurant, its own artworks, its own store, its own bowling alley, and its own clubs." This was the beginning of a huge wave of corporate relocations to campuses in the suburbs, pretty much all based on the private automobile getting people to work, all with vast parking areas.

It also pretty much describes the new Facebook MPK 20 building in Menlo Park, California. But what a stunning suburban office park it is; like CGLI's offices, which had courtyards full of Noguchi sculptures, Facebook's HQ is full of art, nicely photographed here by staff Instagrammers.

In 1957, the cars were parked on the surface. Now they are often in multistory garages or underground, but Facebook's architect Frank Gehry takes a whole new approach: the entire ground plane, the most important part of any building when it comes to dealing with people, has been given over to parking while the building is raised up on stilts. There are 1,499 parking spaces for 2,800 employees, or a ratio of one space for every 1.86 employees. Oh, but it has a gorgeous green roof, and is LEED certified, so people will call it green, even though it's really just another gas-guzzler when you total up the amount of fuel used to get people to that parking garage.

It's what Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen calls the transportation energy intensity, and it means that getting to our suburban office buildings uses 30 percent to 60 percent more energy than the building itself, and the greener the building, the higher the percentage. As I noted in TreeHugger, "It is a real lesson in the importance of planning, of designing our cities right so that one can walk or take transit or bike to work in safety and comfort, that all the green building in the world isn't going to make that much difference if we don't fix these things first."

The Facebook building is one giant 430,000 square foot room, described in Wired:

The interior is really just one giant space — a space designed to foster the free exchange of ideas. “It reinforces our open and transparent culture,” says John Tenanes, the company’s vp of global real estate, using terms you so often hear from the Facebook braintrust. “It’s a place where people can collaborate.”

It's so big that the walking loop on the roof is a half mile long, in what is essentially a 9-acre park with 400 trees. It's hard not to be impressed with it, just as everyone was impressed back in 1957 with the Connecticut Life building. It's also hard to believe that in 58 years, we haven't learned from our urban planning mistakes, and we're still building open office barns in the suburbs. It may be on stilts and it may have a green roof, but we have been there and done that.

But what beautiful Instagrams! You can see more of them here.