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There is a prevailing trend in visualizing company campuses that brings forth an impression of livability and comfort akin to city development. Renderings of corporate headquarters show large-scale projects which aim to convey images of microcosms offering all the commodities of residential, administrative, work and recreational architecture combined. We’ve seen a number of images depicting future campuses of tech companies like Google, Amazon, Linkedin, Facebook and Apple, and most of these have a similar thread running through the projects, both architecture-wise and in terms of rendering style. Iconic looks are combined with pastoral scenery that have little to do with the good old cubicle nightmares of the nineties. Although repetition is bound to happen in designs that aim to accommodate hundreds or even thousands of employees, most renderings are focused on informal activities, greenery, walkways, bicycle lanes-basically everything that describes spaces which are supposed to provide optimal day-to-day functioning and ensure the happiness of its users. Translucent enclosures, informal meeting places, nurseries, spas and sporting facilities have become integral to the design of corporate architecture. Looking at several major companies and their respective headquarters, it becomes clear that the designs, as well as their representation through imagery reflects company culture.
Google HQ Mountain
The recently unveiled proposal for Google’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California, is a complex of giant glass canopies sheltering a number of impressive spaces. Underneath the canopy one can see parts of the complex designed as small villages, with the Green Loop running through the building, incorporating biking and walking paths. At ground level, the building spills into the surrounding landscape populated with waterways and trees. The images attempt to show the diversity of activities which Google plans to provide for its employees. Mountain View residents will be able to enjoy long walks along green corridors, eat in cafes and work in the public community gardens. Most of the images show families enjoying the natural environment and using diverse networks of public and private spaces such as plazas, parks and trails. Apart from showing the company’s interest in integrating with the general public, the images are there to remind us of Google’s dedication to its employees and the promotion of healthy, family-oriented lifestyle. Whether or not this is rooted in reality is an entirely different issue.
Apple Cupertino New Headquarter
Apple, on the other hand, takes a slightly more radical approach, both through architectural design and visualization style. The company’s new headquarters, dubbed “The Spaceship”, designed by Foster + Partners, was envisioned as a single loop that encompasses a large patch of greenery and feels much more detached from its environment than the previous example. Located on an 176-acre site in Cupertino, California, and aiming to accommodate over 13,000 employees in a single building, the structure looks hermetic and, to a degree, communicates Apple’s business culture. The building’s sleek form conveys a sense of security and secrecy, but the renderings make sure we experience the future campus as a number of daylit spaces with some informal activities. Images of the facade, which is meant to be built using expensive curved glass panels, often show walkways that lead to the building in a sort of processional manner. The prevailing impression is that, instead of being integrated into the environment and existing urban life, the building will be visited like a tourist attraction or a temple.
The controversy involving the campus site in Mountain View has recently been all over the news and its epilogue allowed Linkedin to build its own new headquarters, leaving Google with less than one-fourth of the square footage it hoped to build. Linkedin’s much more modest project is a hybrid 5-building campus with green spaces for the public, and includes a movie theater, basketball court, 50,000 square feet of retail spaces and other amenities. The use of geothermal energy and vegetated roof system will ensure a sustainable functioning of the complex. The rendering style of Linkedin’s design is very schematic, “Sketchupy” and, compared with the other examples, the least photo-realistic. The images aim to portray a similarly warm and comfortable civic environment, but do that in an old-fashioned way. This quality could be referencing Linkedin’s to-the-point business strategy based on data. This clearly shines through the renderings, which are illustrative but don’t aim for great visual appeal or photo-realistic look.
Amazon HQ Seattle
Amazon’s new headquarters in Seattle takes form of a huge greenhouse comprising three interconnected glass spheres. Up to 1,800 employees will occupy these spaces whose design is very unusual. Reminiscent of a greenhouse, the buildings aim to create a microclimate, with mature trees and vegetation dominating the interiors. Again, the company describes the design as an attempt to create a neighborhood which would reflect their “community-focused culture”. The structures will be surrounded by publicly accessible retail spaces and a park. The design may seem anachronistic to a degree, referencing the 20th century interest in “apocalyptic” design and environmental escapism, but the images certainly show a different approach in office design. The rendering style is photo-realistic and iconic but despite the greenery and warm lighting, the entire package feels detached from the city and slightly ominous.
Facebook provided very few renderings of its green-roofed headquarters in Menlo Park area, near San Francisco. The Gehry-designed workspace is a sprawling collection of different spaces which remind of the company’s multi-faceted work focused on users and communication. Computer islands, easy chairs, galleries and an open-plan layout were distributed across 40,000 square meters of programmatically overlapping spaces open for rearrangement. This reflects the company’s philosophy of functioning more as a platform, a facilitator of communication and an organization that keeps pace with the way mainstream culture evolves. What we’ve seen before the building broke ground were simple physical model-like images of connected volumes that seem to say:”We are not starchitecture. We are a philosophy.”