Categories Design, Narrative

Week 4: Some Normalcy–Samsung’s North American HQ

We have spent the last three weeks looking at billion dollar spending binges by some of the most well-known companies in the tech industry. I am taking this week to get back to the real world, but just for a week. Next week, we will take a trip to somewhere out of this world in cost and design with Apple’s new headquarters.

Samsung is building a cool-looking project with a center courtyard that is open to the environment. With a budget of $300 million, they are spending just a third more than Facebook spent on design alone. When completed, this building will hold 2,000 people, a relative bargain given what we have been reviewing.

The project is innovative but still looks normal. Inside the look becomes indicative of Silicon Valley. Quoting from below, “The vibe is supposed to be casual on the outside, but serious and competitive on the inside: sharks in flip-flops, vampires in jeans, eggheads in t-shirts. Samsung inverts this norm, playing off the besuited Asian business stereotype, while not quite pretending to the affable, work-life balance hang-looseism of a Facebook. This is a work space, even as it concedes that it must look Silicon Valley — which is to say, “innovative” — enough. Maybe call it Minimum-Viable Valley Architecture.”

One of the architects below called this design “post-Panopticon.” I had to look that up. Here you go:
The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behavior constantly.

How about the value proposition of reading this narrative: You get to see some cool renderings and learn a great word to use at your next cocktail party. We have a similar value proposition when we represent tenants: Best in class service, tons more experience than any other broker and good guys you want to work with—or like the author says below–sharks in flip flops.



What Samsung’s New American HQ Says About the Korean Giant
The architecture of fitting in in Silicon Valley


By: Alexis C. Madrigal
July 10, 2013


Samsung breaks ground on a new $300 million North American headquarters building in San Jose today. The building will house more than 2,000 employees in R&D and sales. As you’d expect, it’s a green (LEED Gold) building that’s designed to foster fickle innovation by making it easy for people to bump into each other in courtyards and facilities. The heart of the development is a ten-story tower that the company’s architect, NBBJ, says “will create a powerful brand image for Samsung.”

I got curious, though. What, precisely, did the building say about Samsung, a company that can compete with Intel with one hand and Apple with the other? So, I sent six renderings of the new building to some architecture critics to see what they had to say. I did not tell them the name of the company or architect; they were flying/critiquing blind. (And while I waited for them to respond, I brushed up on my Samsung history; you can skip ahead if you’re familiar with the company’s rise.)

A Brief History of Samsung
The company was founded in 1938 by Lee-Byung Chull as a trading firm, and by 1950 was one of the ten largest in Korea. A few years later, Samsung started manufacturing sugars and then textiles. The company’s entrance into electronics came in 1969 with the formation of Samsung Electronics Co. As summarized by Youngsoo Kim in a Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy report, “Samsung’s entry into the electronics industry had four important features which continued to characterize Samsung’s electronics activities into the 1980s: an emphasis on mass production, reliance on foreign technology, a follow-the-leader strategy, and government support.”

Through a variety of joint ventures with Japanese companies like NEC and Sanyo, Samsung began to build its technological capabilities, largely focusing on assembling black-and-white televisions through the late 1970s, primarily for export to the United States as an original-equipment manufacturer, or OEM, for American brands.

It was around this time that Samsung entered the semiconductor and telecommunications hardware businesses. The company built technical know-how throughout the 1980s across the world, including a massive facility in Austin, Texas. Samsung’s founder, Lee, chose DRAM, memory chips, as the area where the company would compete. By the late 1980s, that choice had paid off. As Japanese and American memory chip companies fought, Samsung swooped in to capture more and more business. By 1993, it had the largest DRAM market share in the world. That success started to bubble over into adjacent businesses. The company became a leading maker of flash memory and LCD TVs, the latter of which became wildly profitable in the late 1990s. All three fields required Samsung to value speed as they could only make money on a particular generation of products for a short time before commodification caught up with them.

That trait served them well in the small but growing mobile phone market of the early 2000s. “Even expensive fish becomes cheap in a day or two,” Jong-Yong Yun, CEO of Samsung Electronics, told Newsweek in 2004. “For both sashimi shops and the digital industry, inventory is detrimental. Speed is everything.”

Aided by South Korea’s early deployment of both broadband and wireless broadband, Samsung got the jump on some other companies in realizing the importance mobile phones would come to assume. Thanks to a massive (and still growing) global marketing and advertising campaign begun by Eric Kim in 1999, their phones became the consumer product that transformed Samsung’s image from a manufacturer of cheap electronics into an elite global brand.

Now, Samsung finds itself as a vertically integrated monster electronics company with a top 10 global brand. And they’re one of only a handful of corporations that have figured out how to make money off smartphones.

And yet, the original knock, summed up by Sea-Jin Chang in his 2008 book, Samsung Vs. Sony, on which I’ve relied heavily in this account of the company’s fortunes, remains: “Samsung is not competitive in products for which creativity and software matter and to which Samsung’s magic formula, ‘speed and aggressive investment,’ do not apply.” But that’s not to say that Samsung has not desperately wanted to become radically innovative, like the Sony of old and Apple of late.

The Architecture of Fitting In
So… That’s the context for this new building in San Jose. A company headquarters is a monument to what it wants to be. And Samsung has been nothing if not aspirational (and successful).

Remember that (all but one of) the architecture critics I contacted did not know that we were talking about a Samsung building. They just knew it was the prospective North American HQ of a global corporation.

Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times‘ architecture critic, delivered a perfect summation of the building’s aspirations, revealing several threads that run through the rest of the evaluations. I’m going to let him walk you through the building.


What do these renderings reveal? A building that makes sincere if modest gestures in the direction of public engagement but is more clearly designed to draw employees into a sleek, dynamic and well-appointed interior realm. On its outer facades, it is stocky, symmetrical and well-behaved, reminiscent of office buildings of the 1960s and 1970s; the decision to slice it into three horizontal bands suggests an interest in keeping it, at any cost, from looking like a vertical building.


Inside, the focus is very different: on interaction, collegiality, a chance for employees to see what their colleagues are doing, and even better to run into them on the way to or from a meeting or the gym. Many new high-tech campuses — by Facebook, Apple et al. — put an architectural and rhetorical premium on this kind of serendipitous encounter and how it can boost a company’s creativity. This was the basis of Marissa Mayer’s edict that Yahoo employees stop working so much from home; as she put it, people are “more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”


That, of course, is a fundamentally urban notion, the same idea that has always made cities attractive and vital. Crucially, though, the companies allow it only inside, from one employee to another; outside, they prefer suburban enclaves that their staffs reach largely by car. They want city-like energy inside the building, but a ring of privacy and a suburban buffer outside.


This building seems not nearly as extreme in that regard as, say, Norman Foster’s Apple Campus 2; but the long arm of the parking garage serving the main building like plumbing serves a house, half-heartedly camouflaged behind its solar array and giant gridded metal panels, combined with the way the architecture is staid on the outside but fluid and energetic in the interior courtyard, suggests a watered-down version of the same approach here: a squared-off update of the Apple ring, feeling slightly guilty (but not *too* guilty) about sealing itself off from the world around it. You park, you experience a few yards of the public realm, maybe you buy a coffee at one of the storefronts attached to the garage; and then you make your way inside, where the architectural and corporate action is.


Mark Lamster, the architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News, saw the building’s rather practical appeal. “It looks like a pretty forward-thinking design, and I guess it will be a desirable place to work, but,” he noted, “it has a hermetic feel to it, even as it appears to be very open architecturally.”

As Hawthorne noted, the building retains the trappings of a suburban office park. “Move beyond the high-end, high-tech aesthetics and landscaping, and you find a building that is pretty insular, even though it appears to be set on a busy street grid,” Lamster wrote. “The idea: keep employees inside at all times, so they’re never away from work. (Companies also like to point out that this kind of enforced proximity promotes collaboration and innovation.)”

Samsung is, in fact, famous for requiring that employees trying to innovate spend vast amounts of time with each other. In Korea, they even have a facility called the Value Innovation Program Center to which employees repair for months at a time to literally eat and sleep at work.

Design Observer’s Alexandra Lange picked up on specific set of corporate cues. “Infinite loop. Check. Green walls. Check. Green roof. Check. Fitness feelies. Check,” she wrote. “The renderings of this headquarters exhibits many of the de rigeur elements of new corporatism, focusing on glass and greenery and casually dressed people, making the workplace seem like more of a walk in the park, or a lifestyle, than an office.”

She wondered whether the tension between the corporate subtext and casual facade could be resolved.
“The front, boxy building looks like a blandish 1970s office building newly retrofitted with a curving interior atrium,” Lange said. “It should be rethought, as the message of its front facade doesn’t match with the long, green-walled tail.

Founding editor-in-chief of Dwell Magazine and former New York magazine architecture critic Karrie Jacobs weighed in although she knew she was looking at Samsung’s building. Generally, she had much the same reaction as those who did not know it was a tech company’s new digs. “The idea is that everyone can see everyone and that this will somehow encourage human contact and collaboration. It’s post-Panopticon,” she said. “Not authoritarian but more about visual peer pressure, the built version of social media.


Where the others saw a general, bland corporate decisionmaking process at work, she had more explicit me-too reference points. “My first thought upon seeing the open core of the building was that Apple had reigned in its giant Foster donut,” Jacobs said. She also compared the building to IBM’s 1964 headquarters building in Armonk, NY. “Not for any good reason,” she noted. “But the resemblance, real or imagined, was enough that I entertained the thought that maybe IBM was trying to reinvent itself yet again with a fabulous, greenish, state of the art Silicon Valley building.”

Putting the responses together, I’m struck by the idea that this is an architecture of fitting in. When American companies look to foreign markets, they often talk about “localizing” their products for the “cultural preferences” of the target consumers. This building strikes me as what happens when a very smart company from a distant shore localizes ititself for Silicon Valley. It must have green space. It must have green walls. It must have “fitness feelies.” And there is something for everyone, as BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh (and incoming editor of Gizmodo) observes. “They are also trying to project an appeal across class lines and lifestyles by depicting different types of render ghosts in the images: dudes in shorts, women in pant suits, a lady in a tennis visor, guys in Prada-like autumn wear sporting Ray-Bans in the sun.”


Manaugh allllmost calls the building the mullet of corporate headquarters: business in the front, party in the back.

“The images also say that they’re serious and competitive on the outside (see the modern, gridded, rectilinear building envelope), but, around the corner, if you’re willing to walk out back here with us, you can check out our oddly shaped long tail where you’ll get lost in the free geometry and casual landscaping, and you can dwell for a while and have a coffee” he wrote to me. “Meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to work here — or to be invited here for a meeting — you will experience our quirky interior courtyard carved out of the floor plate, indicating that we’re more fun and less formal than the public image we first deliberately greeted you with.”

What makes the building interesting as a Samsung emblem is that this is an inversion of the stereotypical Valley attitude. The vibe is supposed to be casual on the outside, but serious and competitive on the inside: sharks in flip-flops, vampires in jeans, eggheads in t-shirts. Samsung inverts this norm, playing off the besuited Asian business stereotype, while not quite pretending to the affable, work-life balance hang-looseism of a Facebook. This is a work space, even as it concedes that it must look Silicon Valley — which is to say, “innovative” — enough. Maybe call it Minimum-Viable Valley Architecture.

NBBJ Unveils Samsung’s New Garden-Filled San Jose Campus That Could Rival Them All


By: Bridgette Meinhold
February 26, 2013

There’s a new kid on the block and its name is Samsung. Well, Samsung certainly isn’t new, but the electronics giant is building a brand new $300-million campus in San Jose that is could rival the new campuses for Facebook, Apple and Google, which are all in the works in Silicon Valley. Designed by NBBJ, the new Samsung Campus will include two office towers and new research facilities, plus lots of amenities for employees. Energy efficient design with a heavy focus on the building envelope, an open-air concept and gardens on every floor are a few of the strategies unveiled so far. The battle in our minds isn’t who makes the best technology, but who has the greenest campus. Let the battle begin!

Samsung HQ 1

Samsung HQ 2

Samsung’s new campus will expand the company’s existing US reach and set it on a more level playing field with the other tech companies with headquarters in Silicon Valley. The San Jose campus will include two 10-story towers, research facilities, a clean room, data center, basketball and sports courts, and cafes. To encourage collaboration and employee interaction, the design features many “team collaboration” zones throughout. In total, the project will cover 1.1 million square feet and provide 2,500 high-skill, high-wage jobs.

Samsung HQ 5

NBBJ’sopen-air design features outdoor walkways and corridors that lend the building a feeling of being in a vertical park. Gardens are on practically every floor and connect the office spaces to the atriums and dining facilities. Besides being infused with plants and flowers, the project will place a strong focus on energy efficiency. So far NBBJ and Samsung have revealed that the exterior will be clad in white metal and clear glass optimized to reduce solar heat gain and fill the offices with natural daylighting.

Work is expected to begin on the campus in July 2013 and completed sometime in the middle of 2015. All of the major new campuses to be built are still working out their details, so we’ll have to watch to see who tops out in terms of sustainability. Who will have the greenest campus of them all?

Samsung Semiconductor Breaks Ground on North San Jose Mega Campus

Silicon Valley Business Journal

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein
July 10, 2013

Samsung Groundbreaking

With a bit of ceremonial dirt thrown, Samsung Semiconductor Inc. officially kicked off construction of its high-profile North San Jose campus, and the company pulled out all the stops to let the world know.

Samsung just Tuesday pulled permits to begin early pile work on the 680,000-square-foot project, whose breathtaking design from architecture firm NBBJ has garnered international attention. A two year build-out awaits with general contractor Webcor running point, but on Wednesday top executives were all smiles as they thanked city and state officials for working to smooth the company’s path. (See slideshow at right.)

“Although we’ve had a really great 30 years in Silicon Valley here, it is not enough,” Samsung executive Charlie Bae told a crowd of hundreds who gathered in a massive tent set up for the occasion. (It was held on the site of the company’s former home, a 1980s-era office park that was recently demolished.)

“I truly believe this new campus will provide the world’s best convenience and comfort for our employees…In two years, I’d like to invite all of you here when we finish the buildings,” he said.

Samsung Semiconductor is a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korea-based Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which is the second largest semiconductor manufacturer in the world. The company’s headquarters here will house research and development and marketing, and its efforts show up in everything from Samsung phones and TVs to countless third-party products.

“This facility will play a very important role in expanding our R&D capabilities in Silicon Valley,” said OH Kwon, the vice chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics.

The start of construction marks a major milestone for the city, which worked with the state of California to keep the tech juggernaut in San Jose when it outgrew its existing home here. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told me the project is “the largest single development event in North San Jose’s history.”

With Samsung also eyeing expansion in Austin, officials devised a package of incentives worth $7 million to keep its longtime hometown competitive, and approved the deal in March.

But Reed said the decision was also about the area’s talent pool.

“They could go anywhere in the world, they have the money to go anywhere in the world, and they have chosen to stay right here in this site,” Reed told attendees. “That’s a great day for the state of California.”

Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the swift work on the deal shows the region can be business friendly.

“(Gov. Brown) has…been able to remove the perception that California is all about this,” Guardino said, unravelling a roll of red tape. “He’s replacing that perception with a red carpet.”

San Jose says it will see about $23 million in new city revenues from the project. It has enough room for about 2,000 workers, up from a current head count of 300.

That planned growth drew a jovial warning from Cisco EVP Randy Pond, who also spoke at Wednesday’s event.

“We’re excited to have this kind of building in our neighborhood,” Pond said. He added a bit later with a laugh: “I’ll continue to be pleased if you don’t recruit up and down Tasman Drive.”

The project becomes the second massive corporate campus to break ground in recent months amid a boom in tech owner-user projects. Google is currently working on its Bayview campus on Moffett Field in Mountain View. Others are planned from Nvidia Corp. and Apple, Inc. (And a new campus is well underway for LinkedIn in Sunnyvale, but the tech company is leasing it.)


Categories Design, Narrative

Week 3–Google’s New Headquarters and a Bonus

Continuing our tour of billion dollar plus new headquarters, we turn to Google. Google is planning on building nine buildings with the now familiar pedestrian and bicycle friendly environments. When completed, this 1.1 million square foot project in Mountain View, CA, will be comprised of nine fairly traditional buildings connected by “messy” courtyards. Below is a bunch of renderings that may change, as you will see in the article. Google is rethinking the look of the buildings, probably to keep up with the Apples, Amazons, and Facebooks of the world.

Here are some highlights:
–The bike and pedestrian paths will be elevated above everything—3 stories above the courtyards.
–The site sits on 42 acres.
–The buildings are only 78 feet wide. That is very narrow and will provide a ton of light into the space (and make the buildings longer).
–Of course, they are trying to outdo all other companies with the environmental modifications.

Scrolling down you get a bonus: Google’s new UK headquarters.  Pretty cool,  AND EXPENSIVE.  Why did I include it? Well, they are spending over a billion dollars on that facility as well. Part of the reason why is because their profits would be taxed if they brought the money back to the US.

–The site is ONLY 2.5 acres.
–The buildings will be able to handle only 4,000 employees.
–It will include an open air swimming pool and an indoor football pitch (getting into the slang of Brits).

A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon it will add up.

Next week we turn to the most reasonable of all our headquarters: Samsung North American Headquarters.



Google’s New Campus Has Light, Fresh Air, Low Power Use


By: James S. Russell
April 23, 2013

Google HQ 1

Source: NBBJ/Google via Bloomberg

An architectural rendering of the new Google headquarters campus under construction in Mountain View, California. Architect NBBJ links the nine buildings with raised pedestrian and bicycle bridges that cross landscaped courtyards and restored salt marshes.

Google HQ 2

Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg
Google Inc.’s current headquarters in Mountain View California, which was originally designed by Studios Architecture for Silicon Graphics, Inc. The company will now build a new 1.1-million square foot headquarters to be designed by NBBJ architects on a nearby site that faces San Francisco Bay.

Google Inc. (GOOG) has begun construction of a new 1.1-million-square-foot headquarters that is just minutes by bicycle from its current Googleplex in Mountain View, California.

It’s the first time the company is building offices for itself rather than occupying an existing structure, and Google has promised to break new ground in environmental sustainability.

The goal of the complex is “to provide the healthiest environment possible,” said David Bennett, head of Google’s Green Team Operations and Innovations, in an interview.

The proposed campus of boomerang-shaped structures will occupy a 42-acre site called Bay View.

The design is by NBBJ of Seattle, a prolific but not notably innovative firm.

It has produced 9 ordinary-looking, glass-clad buildings of three-to-five stories. They snuggle around a network of intimate but messily arranged courtyards.

Though the buildings seem to wander aimlessly, their narrow ends face west and east to minimize heat and glare from the morning and afternoon sun.

Google hopes staffers will hatch new ideas while communing with elements of native habitat reintroduced by local landscape architect Cheryl Barton. She will also 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. It’s a low-lying location. I hope they are thinking about rising sea levels.

Light Bath

Standard technology buildings are thick and square, herding engineers together in dispiriting rows far from windows. NBBJ shaped long buildings only 78 feet wide.

The narrow floor plan means that pool tables, couches, huddle rooms — even conventional desks — will be bathed in energy-saving daylight because windows will be so close for so many.

Natural light and fresh air are rare commodities in the tech workplace. Google will add these perks to the well-stocked cafeterias, game rooms and nap pods that make it a sought-after place to work.

Because the company encourages free-flowing collaboration and idea sharing, staffers will pedal or walk to gatherings across bridges that loop the campus three stories above the courtyards. The loops land at nodes that join buildings at their kinked hips.

They put almost everyone on the campus no more than one floor and 2.5 minutes’ walk from anyone else.

Project Cost

NBBJ hasn’t gracefully reconciled all of Google’s aspirations. I fear GPS will be needed to navigate this well-meaning muddle.

Google won’t disclose the project cost, but it’s not the heroic $5 billion high-tech palace Apple is building in nearby Cupertino.

So how green is Google? It’s worth comparing to the $18.5 million Bullitt Foundation, which opened its doors on Earth Day, April 22, in Seattle. The foundation, devoted to making the Pacific Northwest into a global model of environmental sustainability, got its diminutive 50,000-square-foot building off the electrical and sewer grid.

It follows the demanding ecological principals of the Living Building Challenge.

Google HQ 3

Photographer: Ben Benschneider/Bullitt Foundation

The Bullitt Foundation headquarters, a 50,000 square foot building devoted to environmental sustainability, in Seattle. Designed by architect Miller Hulll, the broad overhanging roof hosts solar panels.

Google HQ 4 2

Photographer: James S. Russell/Bloomberg
A space inside the Bullitt Foundation headquarters in Seattle. The building confers environmental benefits with heavy timber framing that sequesters carbon, triple-glazed energy-saving windows, and high ceilings that allow daylight to replace electric lights on most days.

Energy Use

Architect Miller Hull, working with PAE Consulting Engineers, achieved a startlingly low 16 for Energy Use Intensity (a common measure of efficiency). The broad overhanging roof, crammed with solar panels, doesn’t generate much power in cloudy Seattle, so energy conservation does the hard work.

Google’s headquarters plans to have solar-panel arrays but expects an EUI of 62, partly because of its heavy use of computers. That’s still half the average for its current buildings.

A low-energy heating and cooling system will allow Google to supply 100 percent fresh air economically. (Most buildings introduce only a small percentage of fresh air.)

The focus on air quality goes with Google’s ambitious Healthy Materials Program. The company seeks to eliminate potentially harmful chemicals in building materials. This is no easy feat, since product manufacturers do not like to disclose the ingredients they use.

While Bullitt also avoids questionable chemicals, Google, with its huge market power, can transform the way building-materials are made.

Composting Toilets

Bullitt uses composting toilets, which means it puts no waste into the city’s sewage system. Google wasn’t ready for that.

So which is better? Bullitt intended to pioneer, and to show what’s possible. It’s already changing the marketplace by inspiring green-innovation districts in Seattle and elsewhere.

Google’s energy performance and commitment to workplace quality are impressive if not innovative. It’s bringing to the mainstream what was thought barely achievable a few years ago.

Google Delays Construction Of Its Massive New Headquarters

Business Insider

By: Jay Yarow
July 14, 2013

Google is delaying construction of a massive new Googleplex, George Avalos at Mercury News reports.

Previously, the company was said to be starting construction this year, with hope of moving people into the offices in 2015. The new headquarters is on land leased from NASA which is adjacent to its current offices in Mountain View.

Construction is being delayed by six to twelve months because Google wants to refine its design, Mountain View city manager Dan Rich said, “Google wants to refine the architectural design … they want to get it right. I was a little surprised when they told me, but they decided to take a step back … The delay has to do with the actual design of the project, the look and the exterior of the buildings.”

The original design was comprised of a nine curved rectangular buildings. The design wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring, but Google said no employee will be more than a two and half minute walk from another employee on the new campus.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the delay, saying, “We want to make our Bay View campus a terrific and environmentally sustainable place for Googlers to work… To make sure we get it right, we’re being thoughtful in our design process.”

Here’s what the original design for the new campus looks like:

Google HQ 1 2


Inside Google’s new 1-million-square-foot London office—three years before it’s ready


By: Leo Mirani
November 1, 2013


Google Kings Cross: As much a playground as a work space. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Google’s new London office, scheduled to open in 2016, will have an open-air swimming pool, an indoor football pitch, a climbing wall and a roof garden from which to watch trains glide out of Kings Cross station towards Cambridge or Hogwarts. Googlers can cycle right into the building and to the cycle store room, which is equipped with showers and lockers. Somewhere in the interstices, there will also be desks to work on.


It’s rarely this lovely in London, but the view of St Pancras is spectacular any time of year. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

The 1-million-sq-ft (93,000 sq m) office will sit on 2.4 acres (1 hectare) of land between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.  When the deal was announced in January, it was one of the biggest ever commercial property acquisitions in Britain. Reuters reports Google will spend £650 million ($1.05 billion) to buy and develop the site, with an eventual worth of £1 billion.


The 2.4 acre site sits between Kings Cross station (top), St Pancras Station (bottom) and Central Saint Martins art school (left). Rob Parrish/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

So why is Google splashing the cash on this much space? The cynical answer is because it can: Google needs to do something with all those billions of dollars it has earned outside the US because it can’t bring them home without a whopper of a tax bill. The more philosophical answer is that the nature of work is changing—at least for those companies that can afford it.


It wouldn’t be a tech company’s office without cushions carelessly scattered about the place. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Conventional wisdom has it that technology has made offices leaner. Manual labour has been eliminated, paper files have been replaced by digital ones, and people can work remotely. Yet that is precisely why Google needs as much space as it does—the swimming pool, the football pitch and the free lunches are meant to entice workers into the office, to keep them there, to eliminate reasons for staying away. Tech companies take as much space as old economy firms—they just use it differently.


Googlers can cycle right into the building to the 20,000-sq-ft bike shed. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

“The idea is that the people who are in the building—not the tenant but the actual staff—need to be attracted to the building. They need to like the community of the building,” says Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the London architects building Google’s HQ.


Parts of the office, such as the promenade running through the building, will be open to the public. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

That’s also why Google chose to put its building at Kings Cross. Central Saint Martins, an art school, is just over the canal. The Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research center, is coming there in 2015. The British Library, home to one of the world’s largest collections of knowledge, is up the road. And Googlers with a decent pair of binoculars should be able to read tomorrow’s news being typed out at the Guardian’s offices on the other side of Kings Cross. When complete, the neighbourhood will have one of the highest concentrations of brilliant, creative people in London.


The canal is all that separates Google from 3,500 art students. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

“The point is if there’s 3,500 students, they [Googlers] might form a relationship with Central Saint Martins,” says Allford. ”You come to a city to meet people who aren’t like you, who are different and have different ways of seeing the world. The street life is incredibly important for why you live in a city. Taking that idea of life into the building and social space and what Google call positive friction. You want people to get to their desk and do work, you want them to get around, but you don’t want them to miss each other.”


The plan is to make an office so nice you never want to leave. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

It is also plugged into larger networks. From Kings Cross, Googlers can get to Cambridge, home to Britain’s tech hardware sector and chipmakers such as ARM—or Microsoft Research, which is just outside Cambridge station—in 45 minutes. From St Pancras station, on the other side of Google’s HQ, they can take the Eurostar to Brussels (capital of the European Union and useful for lobbying eurocrats) or to Paris (Eurodisney!) in just two hours.


Googlers could conceivably commute to work from bucolic Cambridge—or Paris. INK/Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

The building will remain inherently flexible, says Allford. “We’ve talked with Google about theatre, stage set, and props: The building is the theatre. It lasts 100 years. The stage set is the auditorium. It lasts 20 years and is a building within the building. The props are—the little meeting rooms, the furniture, all this, which ideally you could reconfigure overnight.” The idea is to have a dynamic, flexible space defined by the people who occupy it, not the other way around.


The building stretches 330 metres (1,082 ft) from end to end—as long as the Shard is tall. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

It can hold 4,500 employees, more than twice the total number of Googlers in London. The building will be ready in 2016. Until then, London-based Googlers will continue to be split between two offices at Victoria and one off Charing Cross road.

Categories Narrative

Coppola-Cheney Recap a Strong 2013

I know you were expecting a cool corporate headquarters narrative. Sorry. Every week you get a narrative from me about the office market, real estate or some other story I find interesting. Our real job is providing world class service representing office tenants and landlords in the Metro Phoenix market. We had a great year. Below is a summary. If you need help with your lease or building, I know just the right team. Give us a call or just reply to this email.


Categories Design, Narrative

Week Two of Our Five-Week Review of the New Corporate Headquarters–Amazon

Last week started our five week review of new corporate headquarters with a review of Facebook’s billion dollar investment. Today, we move north to Seattle and Amazon. Can you believe Amazon has spent $1.4 BILLION in just the past 12 months on building a headquarters they are now calling a company town? Facebook wanted a low rise, garden feeling while Amazon is going with spheres and towers. Amazon already occupies 14 buildings in this market and is now building an additional 3 towers connected by really different looking spheres. Upon completion, the capacity will be up to 60,000 employees. This reminds me of Biosphere2 built near my birthplace of Tucson, Arizona (check it out here:

Amazon is not starting over, in fact they are building these spheres and new towers in the middle of the city. Talk about changing the look of the South Lake Union area of Seattle. My only thought was spending over a billion dollars when Amazon has yet to turn a profit….sounds pretty rich.

Next week we will look at Google’s massive plans. These tech companies keep on spending and spending.



Amazon Spent $1.4 Billion in the Past 12 Months to Build a Company Town

Quartz 2


By: Christopher Mims
October 24, 2013

Amazon’s new corporate headquarters will be an Elysian utopia where nobody ever grows old or feels sad. NBBJ

Like Facebook, Amazon is building a city within a city, a glistening, utopian corporate campus in an area of Seattle known as South Lake Union that was once just dingy warehouses. And thanks to an item in Amazon’s latest quarterly report, we now know how much the company spent on the project on property and construction (which has barely begun) in the past 12 months alone: $1.4 billion…

Amazon can afford that kind of outlay since the company is doing so well; it just beat the street’s expectations for revenue, earning $17.09 billion in the previous quarter, a 24% increase since last year. As per Amazon’s usual strategy to get big before bothering to make money, the company had a negative profit this quarter—a $41 million net loss.

Amazon has about 15,000 employees in Seattle, mostly engineers tasked with building and tending its massive IT infrastructure, which it also rents out to countless other internet companies. Amazon is apparently determined to build a campus that encourages its employees to live close to work and bike or walk as much as possible. The scale of its investments in the area suggests that, as Boeing decamps from the greater Seattle area, the city is about to become a new kind of company town.

As Amazon Stretches, Seattle’s Downtown Is Reshaped

NY Times

By: Kirk Johnson and Nick Wingfield
August 25, 2013

SEATTLE — Often a corporation with a grand dream to reshape a city wants tax breaks in return. Not Amazon.

When Amazon executives showed up last year for the first meetings about their proposal to build a new headquarters here — three towers that would draw thousands of workers downtown — city officials were taken aback. Not by the scope of the plan, but by the simplicity of the discussion. The executives said they were ready to break ground immediately on what would be one of the biggest development projects in city history.

Amazon Map 3

The New York Times

Other businesses are moving near the new Amazon offices.
“It was not a hard-boiled negotiation,” said Marshall Foster, the director of city planning. “They basically walked in and said, ‘We think this is the site.’ ” A shovel-ready company that clear and confident, and with the cash to back it up, “doesn’t happen very often,” Mr. Foster added.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, has a reputation for the grand gesture, a knack for seizing an opportunity that can remake a landscape. His purchase of The Washington Post this month for $250 million cash, a bet that others might have shied away from, is a case in point.

Here, in his company’s hometown, Mr. Bezos has put his chips on the idea of Seattle and urban America itself. The first headquarters tower is already under construction, and the company currently occupies 14 smaller buildings nearby.

The result in South Lake Union, previously a low-rise, low-rent warehouse district with ties to the city’s gritty maritime past, is a flood of cash, construction detours and dust. Increases to the city’s tax base aside, some people are apprehensive about whether the growth could outstrip the city’s ability to keep up.

“South Lake Union was a place that people drove through, not to,” John Schoettler, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities, said in an interview. “Once we started development there, everything started to spring up around us.”

The once-empty streets are flooded at lunchtime with Amazon workers, easily identified by their blue employee badges. Fleets of food trucks have arrived, offering Thai, tacos and other fare. On a nice day, workers take their lunches to a park next to the Museum of History and Industry, which was recently renovated with a $10 million contribution from Mr. Bezos.

The company already has about 15,000 employees in Seattle, mostly highly paid engineers, managers and programmers, out of a global work force of about 97,000, according to people familiar with its head count who were not authorized to discuss a figure that the company does not share publicly. The new towers have a capacity for 12,000, giving the company room for nearly 30,000 workers in Seattle, which has a population of 635,000.

“Nobody else in the downtown area has ever had this kind of impact,” said Matt Griffin, a 35-year veteran of the Seattle economic scene and the managing partner at the Pine Street Group, a real estate marketing and development company.

But the Amazon effect only starts with its own big numbers. The thousands of new employees, recently hired or anticipated, have also caught the attention of apartment developers. Last year, Seattle issued more new residential building permits than in any year since at least 1984, when the current system of record-keeping began.

Many of those new apartments are within walking or biking distance of Amazon. Service businesses and start-up technology companies, meanwhile, have sought nearby addresses. Northeastern University, based in Boston, set up a remote campus last year across the street from Amazon’s current buildings.

“I think they’ve single-handedly defined a whole region,” said Bryan Trussel, the chief executive of Glympse, an Internet start-up with offices next to Amazon. “Now everyone wants to be there.”

The setting is significant. In casting its lot in the center of a congested, bustling city, Amazon has rejected the old model of the suburban company campus that is typical of Silicon Valley and the technology ring road around Boston. The old way is perhaps most vividly exemplified by Microsoft. Its offices, and most of its 42,000 local employees, are about 18 miles from downtown Seattle, in the suburb of Redmond.

But it was, perhaps paradoxically, Microsoft money that made Amazon’s torrid growth in the neighborhood possible. In the early 1990s, Paul Allen, Microsoft’s billionaire co-founder, agreed to help finance the creation of a 61-acre public park starting in South Lake Union, a project that was eventually killed by voters. As a result, Mr. Allen’s investment firm, Vulcan, ended up being a big landowner in the area, eventually selling or leasing many of its buildings to Amazon.

Other technology companies are moving into urban spaces. Twitter and Dropbox, the social networking and online storage services, have made San Francisco home, while Tumblr and Etsy, blogging and shopping sites, are in New York. Google has huge urban spaces from Paris to Pittsburgh.

The appeal of cities to potential employees is part of the reason for the shift. An urban setting, with access to good restaurants, nightclubs and cultural attractions, has become as important a recruiting tool as salary or benefits for many companies.

But most of those urban pioneers are still small, at least in their real estate and staffing needs. Twitter, one of the largest, employs about 1,500 workers in San Francisco.

Amazon, by contrast, is both local and global. By encouraging its employees to live within walking distance, it could help Seattle meet its goals for energy efficiency and conservation, city officials said. As part of its development agreement, Amazon also plans to buy a new streetcar for the light rail line that runs past its properties and pay for a stretch of dedicated bicycle lane.

Mr. Schoettler, Amazon’s real estate director, said environmental considerations were an important factor in the company’s decision to remain in Seattle, along with the type of employee that an urban location attracts.

“The energy and excitement from employees being in an urban environment — I hear it daily,” said Mr. Schoettler, who walks to work. “A lot of people don’t even have a car. They want that urban experience right there.”

By contrast, Microsoft’s private bus line, called the Connector, is a common sight snaking through neighborhoods in Seattle and other local communities. Of the company’s 42,012 employees in the Puget Sound region, nearly half are registered to ride, a spokeswoman for the company said in an e-mail.

Amazon’s transformative rush presents challenges for Seattle. Officials must manage the de facto city-within-a-city that is emerging around the company, with a surge of new restaurants, apartment complexes and commercial buildings.

The new headquarters has limited parking, putting pressure on mass transit, which was crimped this year by a financing stalemate in the State Legislature. The city wants low-cost housing in the Amazon zone, but soaring rents and real estate prices, city officials said, will make that goal difficult to achieve. The company’s business model, and tactics in avoiding state sales taxes in many states, also presents a challenge to retailers.

And the company’s mostly young work force may want to raise children here, requiring a new public school where none exist. The city has allocated $5 million for an elementary school, but planners are wrestling with a chicken-or-egg dilemma. A school built now could sit empty, they said, but waiting until the need arises might be too late if young families start moving elsewhere.

“As the city grows — and again, it’s a good problem to have, one that other cities don’t — we have to keep investing in all of our places,” Mayor Mike McGinn said. “How do we make sure we preserve the things that make the city special?”

Amazon Builds the Spheres,
While Google Opts for the Hulk

All Things Digital

By: Kara Swisher
October 26, 2013

Image of Amazon offices rendering courtesy of NBBJ

As with Apple, Facebook, Samsung and many other tech companies, Amazon and Google are in the analog building business of late.

According to the Seattle Times, the e-commerce giant had its plan for a “five-story office building formed by three intersecting spheres” unanimously thumbs-upped by that city’s design-review board.

There are still other approvals to go, as well as building permits, for the structure in downtown Seattle by architect NBBJ, part of a larger 3.3 million square-foot campus.

Noted the Times: “The spheres still would range in height from 80 feet to 95 feet and feature a mix of flex work space and an atrium of plants and trees. The area between the spheres and a 38-story office tower would still include a dog park, a walkway and an open field.”

Perhaps more intriguingly, Google is apparently working on a floating data center that CNET is describing as “hulking.”

Wrote CNET: “It’s unclear what’s inside the structure, which stands about four stories high and was made with a series of modern cargo containers … One expert who was shown pictures of the structure thinks so, especially because being on a barge provides easy access to a source of cooling, as well as an inexpensive source of power — the sea. And even more tellingly, Google was granted a patent in 2009 for a floating data center, and putting data centers inside shipping containers is already a well-established practice.”

And, of course, since it’s Google, it’s hiding in plain site in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

Google also has a big HQ project going with NBBJ, which is also the architect behind the new Samsung North America campus in Silicon Valley and Tencent’s new digs in China.

Facebook, too, has ambitious plans to expand its campus. And, of course, Apple has already got the go-ahead for its Apple Campus 2 project, a 2.8-million-square-foot structure of curved glass, concrete and steel nicknamed the “Spaceship.”

Categories Design, Narrative

A 5-Week Review of New Corporate Headquarters – First up: Facebook

Some of the world’s biggest companies are designing and building World Headquarters. These are not just your run-of-the-mill buildings, rather they are unbelievable in scope and design. AND the companies we analyzed are taking dramatically different approaches. Enjoy the designs, thoughts behind them, and a more intimate understanding of the companies themselves.

First up is Facebook. Over the past quarter, Facebook spent over $200 million on the DESIGN ALONE.  Surprisingly though, when this headquarters is completed, you could drive by and not even know it. We have included three different articles on this $1.74 billion dollar project (yes $1,740,000,000,000 dollars). Here are some highlights:

–The campus will hold just over 9,000 employees. Spending almost two billion dollars for 9,200 employees seems excessive.
–The low-rise campus will have a rooftop park stretching the entire building.
–The buildings will be raw and unfinished (you would think you could finish a building for this amount of cash).
–The environment will be all open and collaborative.
–Scroll down for a large number of renderings and my highlights.

Over the next five weeks you will get to see some incredible buildings AND how different the visions are. This project is pretty understated…Some of the others are not. Next week I will show you Amazon’s new headquarters. A final thought and a shameless self promotion while we are on the topic of Facebook. Click here to go to our Facebook page and “Like” us. Thank you.


Facebook’s Sprawling New HQ
Designed by Frank Gehry

eWeek Logo

By: Nathan Eddy
April 5, 2013

In an age where cities hire architects to design new icons to lure tourists or boost civic pride, and corporations erect skyscrapers that top out at dizzying heights, one of the world’s most valuable technology companies known for its global influence, brash young CEO and forward-thinking attitude has settled on a new headquarters building that will remain largely hidden from passersby. Social media behemoth Facebook’s decision seems even more counterintuitive considering the architect tapped to design the HQ: Frank Gehry, arguably the world’s most famous architect and known more for his flamboyant, steel-clad structures that range from an iconic museum in Bilbao, Spain, to an 860-foot residential skyscraper towering over the Lower Manhattan skyline. CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly insisted on a low-key design, which will be largely hidden from the highway that passes in front of it. Parking will be consolidated underneath the new structure, and a sprawling green roof with grass and trees will help it blend into the surrounding landscape. Gehry’s flourishes can be seen in the renderings, but it’s a far cry from his band shell in Chicago or the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles—which is exactly what the world’s most ubiquitous tech company wanted, as it turns out.

Facebook1 2





For the entire article, please click here.

Facebook Recruits Master Architect
Designed Headquarters Building Cost Nearly $ 200 Million

By: Ruijie
December 2012

Mark Zuckerberg

It is reported that after the expansion…Facebook headquarters will be divided into East and West two parks…across Bayfront Expressway. East Park will accommodate 6,600 employees, West Park [will] accommodate 2,800 employees. Facebook has hired Gary Architects (Gehry Partners) to be responsible for the design of the new park…the new park will provide Facebook staff a spacious and bright working environment. It is worth mentioning that Zuckerberg has told Gehry Architects [to] design as far as possible…the wall at right angles, to ensure that the staff in the room do not feel too depressed.

Facebook official blog said the new headquarters building will be…like a warehouse from the partial perspective. [The] desk of each employee will be placed in the spacious open space…the new building will be equipped with numerous small cafes and snack-equipped kitchen…employees can walk from one side to the other side, and the whole process will not encounter a door. Additionally, every corner of the new headquarters has a whiteboard and sofa, to help employees better rest and record the inspiration…

…it is said the actual construction cost overruns 1.74 billion.

The Facebook spokesman [has] not yet made the comment.

For the entire article, please click here.

What Facebook’s New HQ
Says About the Company’s Hopes and Dreams

The social media giant is building a campus that will look more like a park than an office. Why?


By: Emily Chertoff
August 28, 2012

The design of the building can tell us a lot about how Facebook sees itself and about how it wants us to see it. They picked a superstar Pritzker-winning architect — and this starchitect in particular — to redo their campus. Looking at the plans can help us figure out what Facebook wants us to think it is. It can help us figure out what Facebook is in fact.

What does Facebook want us to believe it is?

Mark Zuckerberg 2


Let’s look at the official Facebook explanation of how the company came to pick Gehry and what they were thinking about when they worked with him on the design. The communication from the company’s “Environmental Design Manager” indicates a level of casualness that’s tough to buy when you’re talking about a major tech company that’s about to make a multi-million-dollar infrastructure purchase. On the Gehry selection:

A few months ago, I flew down to Los Angeles to meet for the first time with Frank and his team. His office is a giant warehouse overflowing with handmade, wooden models juxtaposed with state-of-the-art architecture software (some of which is designed by Frank’s in-house team). His teams are filled with people who are unbelievably talented and love what they do. The whole thing reminded me of Facebook, so that when I met Frank, I already knew he was a perfect fit for us.

Facebook wants us to know that its values are Gehry’s values. Further evidence of a creative mind-meld: Gehry works in a warehouse; later, we hear that this design that so shares Facebook’s values will be like a “warehouse.” Facebook isn’t just saying we really get along with our architect. It’s identifying the type of creativity that it takes to run and grow a successful social media company with the type of creativity it takes an artistically serious architect like Gehry to design a building. The comment about wooden models is also a gesture at the valuation of craft — a central part of the artist’s work – that puts it on par with “state-of-the-art” software. Why might Facebook want to associate itself with tactility, with craft, and with the physical world — all those things that the Internet has been accused of disappearing?

Facebook is deliberately trying to project an image — an interesting one, and a bit of a devious one. Two ideas come up repeatedly in as the communication continues. The buildings are environmentally friendly, and also integrated into the landscape:

We’ve paid just as much attention to the outside as well. The exterior takes into account the local architecture so that it fits in well with its surroundings. We’re planting a ton of trees on the grounds and more on the rooftop garden that spans the entire building. The raw, unfinished look of our buildings means we can construct them quickly and with a big emphasis on being eco-friendly.

The environmentally sound building thing is at this point practically a cliché of tech culture. Google’s campus is eco-friendly. Apple’s campus is eco-friendly. This is the Bay Area after all. But there’s a second and slightly more sophisticated thing going on here too. In the past few decades there’s been a resurgent interest in architecture in forms that blend into the environment rather than standing out. The interesting thing about this tendency in architecture is that it’s presented by its supporters as a form of ecology — but for the visual environment, not the living one.

This can mean a building that uses visual elements of a region’s vernacular architecture. The statement notes that the buildings will look “raw” and “unfinished,” and that this will make them more environmentally friendly; this recalls perhaps the most ancient kind of vernacular architecture, a temporary dwelling. But it can also be a building that blends into the natural world itself — a building wearing a sort of camouflage, as it were. It’s a little hard to tell from the images Facebook posted of the models, but Gehry designed the campus expansion to blend into the landscape. As Zuckerberg noted in a post on his Facebook wall, “From the outside,” the new building “will appear as if you’re looking at a hill in nature.” Even more so if the trees planted are local varieties (we’ll see).

Why all this emphasis on visual ecology? It seems weird for a tech company to focus on integrating its building visually into the natural environment, or to use a “primitive” seeming building style…

But Facebook’s…critics often tar it for separating us from the world around us, visual and otherwise. More and more, they say, we choose the screen — a virtual world, both flat and infinitely deep — over the physical world, including natural landscapes.

I imagine that somewhere in the minds of the Facebook executives who worked with Gehry on the plans is the idea that Facebook needs to cover up or combat this sense that it separates us from reality. A new building that presents itself as a non-invasive insertion into a pastoral landscape is a clever visual move. Facebook isn’t sucking you into the screen; no, the company’s holistically integrated with the natural and physical worlds.

Or so says the aesthetics of its headquarters.

So what is Facebook, really?

The interior layout, per what we know about the plans, will reflect the management style we’ve come to associate with start-up culture:

Just like we do now, everyone will sit out in the open with desks that can be quickly shuffled around as teams form and break apart around projects. There will be cafes and lots of micro-kitchens with snacks so that you never have to go hungry. And we’ll fill the building with break-away spaces with couches and whiteboards to make getting away from your desk easy.

This is practically a spatial representation of the startup ethos. It’s nonhierarchical — “everyone will sit out in the open,” with no spatial differentiation (e.g. separate offices) of higher-ups. It’s designed to react “quickly” based on need, a key advantage of startups over creakier, older companies. And it will of course employ the research-derived productivity best practices that have risen to prominence over the years. “Getting away from your desk” for a creativity-boosting break will be easy, for instance.

…It may also be a way of announcing Facebook as a media outlet whose cultural resonance is on par with that of institutions in the world of “high culture.” Note that the Facebook page for the redesign mentions two art-world-related commissions — the Guggenheim and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. But even as the Gehry choice positions Facebook as a cultural institution, of course, Facebook is rewriting the rules of what it means to be one. It’s radically populist and in many ways radically decentered. It does not act as arbiter, allowing the mass to perform that function instead by way of likes and recommends.

So maybe Facebook isn’t signaling its arrival as a top-tier cultural force with the use of Gehry. It already is one, at least in the sense of its scope; and it will never be one in the sense of the exclusivity of the culture it mediates. The Facebook choice of Gehry indicates not just a total collapse of the high culture-mass culture distinction, but the banality of that collapse, or maybe the fact that there’s nothing to collapse anymore. Postmodernism took pains to point out when it was mixing low and high culture; for a company like Facebook the distinction is irrelevant and uninteresting.

For the entire article, please click here.

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