Futuristic Landscape Design
It’s no secret Google’s building a high-tech portfolio beyond search, from self-driving cars to artificial intelligence. But they’re also quietly building something else entirely—a futuristic new campus at NASA Moffett Field. Though the firm has been rather reserved about their new Bay View campus, a panel of designers and architects involved in the project recently gave a talk at NASA, a stone’s throw from Singularity University.
Down for the afternoon, I popped in to hear the gospel.
Over the years, the Googleplex has been well adapted to house the titan of search, but it is not a Google creation from the ground up. Said another way, that particular algorithm has not yet been optimized. So, the firm decided to undertake a building project more suitably ambitious and principled—a building of the future synthesizing the most cutting edge technology of the present.
Like Google’s other offices, the Bay View campus will be stocked with cafes, food, and fun. But when you’re building something from the ground up, you get to arrange the structures any way you like. The buildings on the new campus are jointed, bending them around each other and central open spaces.
The configuration places every employee about three minutes from every other employee and encourages serendipitous interaction. If workers feel like getting somewhere more quickly, there’ll be an elevated infinity loop bike track connecting the buildings. Google’s director of campus development, John Igoe, said the goal is to create a “frictionless environment” that allows folks to focus on work.
Central to that vision is interior and exterior design. Indoor workspaces will be open and naturally lit whenever possible—the lighting will be dimmed or off 77% of the year. There will be no recirculated air inside. And indoor spaces will use radiant heating and cooling transmitted via a network of water pipes and warmed in part by waste heat from the buildings’ refrigeration systems.
All this will be powered by large scale solar (presumably not exclusively) and aims to be 46% more energy efficient than the San Francisco Bay Area average.
That’s the interior. What about outside?
Google wants the Bay View campus to work in harmony with its natural surroundings. The 2.5 acre footprint comprises only 6% of the total 42 acre site. And though the central buildings offer 1.1 million square feet of indoor office space, architectural design firm NBBJ added five “outdoor rooms.”
The design of these rooms was driven by data, a detailed study of how heat and wind flow through the area and how shade and sunlight change throughout the year.
The piazza will be a thriving center of activity with coffee and food trucks. The university-inspired quad will be a place to eat lunch, mingle, or host events. The garden and overlook are contemplative, landscaped outdoor rooms overlooking the bay—open places to inspire innovation or seek a moment’s silence for its own sake.
The wildest of these “rooms” will be an area of regenerated freshwater wetlands. Barton said a big part of the project was “taking the pulse of the site.” According to NBBJ’s Ryan Mullenix, 1/3 of the bay had been filled in by 1960 and 90% of the naturally occurring wetlands destroyed. There’s no going back, but the firm can reverse the hands of time somewhat by reintroducing wetlands onsite.
And in fact, these wetlands will fulfill multiple purposes, creating a positive employee experience, improving the site, and providing sustainable, green water management. Josiah Cain of Sherwood Design Engineers said that together with a series of green roofs and green walls, the wetlands will also act as a natural filter for stormwater and wastewater.
The Q&A was short, but one local worker questioned Google’s traffic and parking plans. As many as 4, 000 Google employees may descend on Moffett Field, paired with only around 2, 200 parking spaces. And although they plan to widen a central access road to the complex, those already working in the area wonder whether it will be enough.
Igoe’s answer? Google doesn’t think the current passenger car paradigm will last. He said the firm wants 50% of its workforce to arrive by bus or bike. (Anyone who’s lived in San Francisco for any period knows well the fleet of Google buses invading the city during commuting hours.) In particular, they’d like to up the bike-to-work folks from 5% to 20%, although he didn’t elaborate on how they’ll arrive at that number.
It’s a big project and a costly one to boot. But Igoe wouldn’t say how much exactly—just that they took the original cost of the Googleplex, added inflation and a Google factor (for cutting-edge tech), and arrived at a competitive cost.
Let’s just say, not cheap but possibly very cool. And as the years pass, those tech-induced efficiency gains will likely help defray steep up-front costs.