The WorkPlace 3.0

// New Office Environments, 2010

The WorkPlace Environment, where the majority of adults pass more than half of our wakening lives, is undergoing a new wave of notable transformations.  Notable not due to a massive sea change, but primarily, for where these changes are happening.  These new transformative shifts in the workplace environment are currently centered in the Silicon Valley, on the peninsula South of the city of San Francisco.


The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA at sunset.

To put these changes and their ‘Geo-Locations’ properly into perspective, it is interesting to provide a brief history of Modern Office Building Design. Starting from the industrial revolution, there have been primary 3 waves of transformation in the structural morphology of the modern workplace environment.

WorkPlace 1.0

The first wave of definitive Modern office organizational tendencies came at the heals of the industrial revolution. Financial institutions, transportation enterprises and insurance companies (located primarily in urban centers) required increasingly larger office spaces than any generation previous.  These spaces were largely needed for clerical duties, where large expanses of open areas could easily host a sea of bookkeepers.



WorkPlace 2.0

Following the second world war, Multinational corporate hubs (located primarily around suburban and/or industrial areas) were established to host increasingly large hierarchical organizations. In these new Corporate Buildings,  the division of spaces were perfectly tuned to the organizations they hosted, albeit often in an anonymous and non-specific manner. These business tendencies of hierarchy typical of  vertical organizational models brought on new structures that  were at first progressive, then settled into standardization which continued slow morphological transformations well into the 70’s and 80‘s. The Standard Office Building Block  is still being transformed, primarily in stylistically and functional hybrids, in North American and European Businesses today.

The transformation of social and cultural norms in relatively recent times flattened business hierarchy into increasilgly horizontal organizational models, largely through an increased reliance on team work, with the initial research primarily centered in cities. This ‘New Office‘ phenomenon, which dates from the 80’s-90‘s  and ran into the 2000‘s, resulted in further change and upgrades in the so called ‘New Office Workplace’ and took place largely in the creative urban-centric fields of media, advertisement and music … notably, LA, NYC, London, Tokyo, San Francisco et al.  The model quickly spread to other business types.



WorkPlace 3.0

This time around however, transformation in the workplace is happening in the Silicon Valley, long the center for computer technology industry  and it’s engineer-centric needs, yet home to many an anonymous, traditional modern office building erected in the 70’s and 80’s, often isolated in discreet business parks, identical in many ways to any and every other business park in America and Northern Europe.

Whats interesting is that in the last few years, the Valleys leaders have called on big name Architects to help create more exciting and recognizable  headquarters and operational  facilities which are more specific to the nature of the company they host. These leaders have understood that their unique organizations require unique facilities. This is a mature step in furthering their acknowledgment to the importance of design as a communication, organization and strategic tool for businesses, big and small. Far be it from the truth that only ‘star-architects’ are capable of creating the exceptional and innovative facilities, buildings and environments suitable to Business 2.0’s needs, but together with the required skill-set they possess, they inherently posses strong media pull, the offering the added value of the branding ‘glow’ and communication power their very names possess.

Case Studies:
Facebook

Facebook, the Menlo Park based social media giant, recently announced a partnerships with the design studio of Frank Gehry, hiring them to redesign their corporate engineering offices.



In her excellent article on this Facebook + Gehry mashup, Allison Arieff rightly criticizes Facebook for not being a better client by insisting upon a more responsible progressive architectural artifact and more responsible urban approach. She accuses Facebook of ‘playing it safe’ (see http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/facebook-plays-it-safe/) although perhaps she misses out on a bigger story, that perhaps the primary need of a contemporary companies Workplace is to reflect and articulate the companies DNA.

A Workplace, in order to be efficient and inspiring, must mirror the very company it houses.

In a sense the Facebook offices by Gehry perfectly reflect the social network which Facebook purports to be.

They hit the nail right on the head by proposing a banal big box shed structure (perfectly in context with the suburban environment) with a series of flexible ‘neighborhoods’ distributed throughout the expansive interior. The environments, a series of continuously linked villages, are a reflection more of the ‘networked’ community and less so of the surrounding territorial context.

The green roof, perhaps a first for Gehry, is the only connection to the context of the greened silicon valley.

Apple

The choice to work with a well renowned protagonist of the design world had until recently escaped the technology world.  Apple Inc. under the guidance of Steve Jobs, hired the London based offices of Norman Foster to overhaul the work environments of Apple, conceiving a new Headquarters in Cupertino.



Apples new but as yet unbuilt office building (http://www.archdaily.com/143936/the-apple-campus-in-cupertino _ http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/09/apple-new-headquarters.html), was first made public last year during a presentation by Steve Jobs to the Cupertino City Council. It is an ambitious attempt to house 12,000 employees into a single structure.  The large annular monolith is reminiscent of the Pentagon, not only due to its size, but in it’s ability to connect separate departments under a single roof. The building itself is a beautiful architectural object, sophisticated in its technological and ecological approach. Like all things Apple, it is elegant, innovative, and advanced.

Like almost every other contemporary business organization, within their new corporate facilities, Apple is striving to increase the idea of teamwork and social integration.

Was the decision to work with Gehry Facebook’s response to Apples decision to re-design their principle office space with Foster? In Apples case, they hired Foster + Partners to create a singular, futuristic object.  Facebook on the other hand has likely chosen Frank Gehry to create an organization system which physically represents the very social complexity and dynamism that the company stands for.

The two leaders have approached their respective workplace environments in unique and different manners.

But this is exactly the point … they are both being true to themselves, equally respecting their corporate identity and Brand DNA.

Isn’t this one of the very core requirements of contemporary workplace? Shouldn’t today’s workplace respond directly to the Organizational model of the company it hosts?

Yes and Yes.

Google

Another Tech Giant, Google, is equally known for the design of their work environments than their ‘arch-rivals’, Facebook and Apple, although Google has not (yet) engaged a starchitect to design their Workplace Environments.



The Google Workplace environment first came into the limelight roughly a decade ago. Their Menlo Park offices, known as the ‘GooglePlex’  were playful, colorful and informal.  but were perhaps less interesting for their formal investigations and more interesting for the services the company provided employees (24 hour organic restaurants, nursery schools, etc

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1947844,00.html

http://www.google.com/about/company/facts/locations/

The GooglePlex, at its conception, set new standards for the New Office Environment. The company was interested in creating a physical situation for its employees that not only reflected the companies organization model, but that inspired the young engineers to a more open, healthy and free frame of mind. Of course, the Googlers were also being tempted to pass as much time in the office as possible. For all of these reasons, the Work environment was designed to reflect more of a College Campus than a traditional office, even though the office buildings themselves were quite traditional and standardized.

The Campus as a metaphor was thus embraced, with lush landscaping, sports facilities, open areas, etc  .. team work and ‘chance meetings’ were emphasized.

The Googleplex was not designed for Google, instead, it was originally commissioned by Silicon Graphics Incorporated ( SGI ), from whom Google purchased the facility.

The project, launched in 1994 to reclaim a former industrial brownfield site, was a creative collaboration between SGI, SWA Group of San Francisco, Sausalito, and the Planning and Community Development Agency of the City of Mountain View.

One apparent link between the original project of SGI and Google is that of ecology, energy production and reduced energy consumption. From what we have read, Google has dedicated a significant portion of its in-house research and development to sustainable energy production. Kudos Google!  Of course, it is a well documented fact that data centers require huge amounts energy, so Google is working in its own best interest, however, one has to believe that Google is sincerely concerned about these issues. Beyond Google’s current mission to ‘organize all the world’s information, we tend to beleive that it’s future mission will more than likely be centered also around the very organization of people, traffic and energy itself.

TP/A

At TP/A we are intimately involved with the design and implementation of the workplace. In our brief history we have designed progressive and efficient workplaces for numerous multi-national corporations. Tim Power has spoken at numerous conferences regarding the subject, focusing primarily on current trends as well as on the future of the Workplace.



Less known however, is that early in Tim Powers’ career (years before working in the groundbreaking studio of Sottsass Associati in Milan), Tim was intimately involved in the design of Hospitality, Commercial/Retail, Educational (University Campuses) as well as the Work Environments of high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Working in the San Francisco office of  SMWM (Perkins + Will),  Tim was Interior Architect for the then headquarters of Apple Computers, as well as for the design of the main offices of Sun Microsystems (whose facilites were subsequently bought by Facebook ) … These experiences are not unrelated to TP/A’s general interest in Commercial ‘Public Space’, including the transformation of the Workplace, and the  frequent trips of Tim Power to Silicon Valley have driven the understanding of the changes taking place.

The WorkPlace in Silicon Valley _ The Next Step?

Perhaps where all these companies fail to innovate is in their lack of proposing a new urban paradigm to challenge the highly zoned peninsula south of  San Francisco, but this is, rightly speaking, beyond the realistic scope of the programs and present ambitions of these companies, however progressive they may be.

Is it antithetical for creative centers to be located outside of urban centers? Despite the current trend of global urbanization, could a shift of creative development, traditionally located in urban centers to less dense environments, be a demographic trend in the making? Urbanists and Ecologists have long expounded the intricacies and the negative aspects of the extra-urbanization of the globe, yet have not often paused to consider the positive aspects of the same phenomenon.  Social and ecological negatives aside, could there be some positive aspects of locating these creative hubs in these peripheral areas?  Are there some aspects of the withdrawal from urban dynamism that lead to a higher level of innovation? Taking an extremely quick look at the starting point of the technology industry in Silicon Valley … Hewlett-Packard itself was founded in the late 30’s in a single family garage in the suburban town of Palo Alto.

‘Workplace  = Work + Play + ?’

Will we see innovations in future Silicon Valley Campuses that surpass the current campuses of Google,  Apple and Facebook regarding sustainability? Will it be one of these same companies that innovates beyond the equatiion of ‘Workplace  = Work +Play ?’ Although the extra-urban environment does not inherently provide for the basic principles of sustainability, at least one of these principles, namely, mass transit, could  be a possible component of a future tech campus expansion. Will one of these companies provide a light rail system directly on a future campus itself, and though negotiations on a regional level, virtually tie its ‘isolated’ facilities into the regional mass transit systems of Bart and Cal Train? Or will they use and propose alternative ‘light transportation’ modes, integrating them into the equation, thus helping to solve the global petroleum crisis?

Time will tell, but if the trend that a companies campus reflects the organizational nature of the company itself, it’s very DNA, we look forward to seeing the  ‘linking’ of the Workplace environment via low impact transportation systems, and believe that this strategic design component will play part in numerous technology companies facilities in the near future.