Two years ago Google announced its new headquarters design by NBBJ Architects, a big corporate but not very exciting firm. You could tell a lot about the difference between Google and Apple by their design decisions; I wrote Our buildings, ourselves: The difference between Apple and Google, represented by their headquarters. Apple was all about secrecy and design perfection; Google was all about data and "bumps."
But when Gehry is designing the world's biggest room for Facebook and Foster is designing the one ring to bind them all, NBBJ no longer cut it, so google has brought in les enfants terribles, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Thomas Heatherwick, both TreeHugger regulars. Bjarke and Thomas's ages added together are still younger than Frank and just a bit older than Norman, this really is passing the torch to a new generation.
It's a new kind of building too; according to Google's blog:
The idea is simple. Instead of constructing immoveable concrete buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas. (Our self-driving car team, for example, has very different needs when it comes to office space from our Search engineers.) Large translucent canopies will cover each site, controlling the climate inside yet letting in light and air. With trees, landscaping, cafes, and bike paths weaving through these structures, we aim to blur the distinction between our buildings and nature.
Totally unlike Foster's Apple HQ that walls itself off from the surroundings, Google is going for openness, with "lots of bike paths and retail opportunities, like restaurants, for local businesses. We also hope to bring new life to the unique local environment." Christopher Hawthorne, architectural critic for the LA Times, notes that the intent is to "in very clear terms reject the privatized, exclusive posture of the new Apple headquarters now under construction in nearby Cupertino."
The openness and accessibility of the design, its literal and symbolic transparency, is clearly a response to Foster's design for what's known as Apple Campus 2, which is similarly pastoral but has been heavily criticized for closing itself off from the public realm. The Google campus "can't be a fortress that shuts away nature, that shuts away the neighbors," Ingels said in the video.
It's actually a really interesting and exciting idea, somehow building mobile and flexible offices under a big glass tent. Ingels says it's all about the natural environment: "Everything [in Silicon Valley] has turned into parking lots. We're trying to reverse this process and re-create some of the natural qualities that have been there in the first place." In an era when things change so fast, it makes sense to design for flexibility.
I hope someday we can do an architectural tour of Facebook, Google and Apple HQs. It will be an interesting study in contrasts.