The next Googleplex goes way beyond free snacks and massages.
May 14, 2015 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Big and Weird: The Architectural Genius of Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick
The vision outlined in these documents, an application for a major expansion of the Googleplex, its campus, is mind-boggling. The proposed design, developed by the European architectural firms of Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studio, does away with doors. It abandons thousands of years of conventional thinking about walls. And stairs. And roofs. Google and its imaginative co-founder and chief executive, Larry Page, essentially want to take 60 acres of land adjacent to the headquarters near the San Francisco Bay, in an area called North Bayshore, and turn it into a titanic human terrarium.
posted by the man of twists and turns (52 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Design features repeated across many very different cultures over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, tend to map to efficiently and effectively meeting deep, persistent human needs. I'd urge Larry Page to read Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn before embarking on this.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:43 AM on May 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Abandoning thousands of years of conventional wisdom about buildings because you wrote a good search engine once 15 years ago sounds like a good plan to me.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:44 AM on May 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


I know Google is awful and everything, but the renderings of this company town look really cool. Like, I would like to live there.
posted by jayder at 8:44 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, expertise in programming naturally makes you an expert in all fields, right?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:44 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, expertise in programming naturally makes you an expert in all fields, right?

Huh, I didn't realize that Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studio were expert programmers. Cool.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:46 AM on May 14, 2015 [30 favorites]


I'd urge Larry Page to read Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn before embarking on this.

The Bloomberg article mentions Larry Page talking about MIT's Building 20, which gets a lot of ink in that book, so maybe he has already?
posted by theodolite at 8:49 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Design features repeated across many very different cultures over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, tend to map to efficiently and effectively meeting deep, persistent human needs.

Indeed, but how those needs are met is highly dependent on technology. We don't build natural stone buildings any more, as they are limited severely in terms of compressive strength (and predictability). New materials, and perhaps more importantly, consistency of those materials can make things possible that were simply impossible before.

It's really worth asking the question, can we do the same or better jobs for housing and making people comfortable with less materials, and lower impacts, and to do it on a large scale.
posted by bonehead at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hey, if Google wants to build the new geodesic dome, it's no skin off my nose as long as I don't have to live in it, work in it, or even see it.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It looks a hell of a lot better and smarter than Apple's flying saucer that's under construction.
posted by beagle at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I miss building 20 - such an odd temporary structure.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:56 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Waiting to see which improperly angled panel ends up melting cars in the parking lot.

I'll be the first to admit, much of Nor Cal ( especially along the highways) is where architecture goes to die.

But I really gotta echo Ryanshepard & suggest Brand. None of these fucking starchitechts seem to ever be forced to live/work in a building they design.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Meh, this seems like a "shine on you crazy diamonds" thing to me. You don't go to work for Google without drinking the goddamn Kool-Aid, so I don't really feel especially bad for the employees. And I think there's some weird necessity to do these stupid celebricaricture projects every few years, then write snarky articles about how horrible the buildings are, just so we can keep architects doing more mundane buildings on the straight and narrow.

Every decade or so we need to let the architects do something really stupid, and then force the morons who let them get away with it to suffer for a while when it becomes the butt of various jokes, pour encourager les autres.

And I'd rather they do something stupid with private money than the usual way that architectural monuments to hubris emerge, which is to hoodwink a bunch of politicians into giving out a carte blanche for a public building, leaving the citizens stuck for decades with a horrorshow like Boston's Government Center / City Hall or that European Parliament building that probably has the dessicated corpses of people who couldn't find their way out of it in the corners.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:01 AM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Bloomberg article mentions Larry Page talking about MIT's Building 20, which gets a lot of ink in that book, so maybe he has already?

Possible, but Brand highlights Building 20's very conventional, cheap-bordering-on-disposable design, and how it blended compartmentalization and informal social spaces that fostered collaboration. Nothing designed by Bjarke Ingels Group et al looks like you'd be allowed to saw holes in the floor or run cable through a wall as needed, and the Google design seems to prohibit privacy. So maybe Page isn't taking away what Brand intended.

Building 20 gets a lot of talk-up in the cult of individual innovation, but its threadbare, unplanned, more-than-a-little anarchic spirit doesn't appear to be something the average Silicon Valley disruptor can actually tolerate.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:02 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Every decade or so we need to let the architects do something really stupid

Indeed, because sometimes what seems stupid on paper sometimes becomes aweseome. Mistakes tend to get torn down when they've been decapitalized, the good ones, to last. Architecture, in my view, is a palimpsest, on a generational timescale.

Let them build it if they want to. Our kids will decide if they like it or not. If they don't, they'll build something else. Our generation is in some ways, the wrong one to judge this. We're too used to the conventional. We don't see the things for what they are, but for what they aren't.
posted by bonehead at 9:09 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Everything about this project, even the architects renderings in the pdfs which have an HDR 'glow' but darkness gathering around the edges, scream of late 70's dystopian science fiction. I mean, what could go wrong with Google biodome? It's not like they are building giant crab robots "crabots" to help maintain the human zone?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:11 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


You load sixteen gigs, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the Googleplex store
posted by harperpitt at 9:12 AM on May 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


Design features repeated across many very different cultures over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, tend to map to efficiently and effectively meeting deep, persistent human needs.

It reminds me of reading comments on Hacker News the other day whining about how the "basic design" of horizontal axis wind turbines hadn't changed for hundreds of years, therefore it must be defective and ripe for "disruption". It often feels like Silicon Valley has a massive case of Not Invented Here syndrome.
posted by indubitable at 9:13 AM on May 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


What about mosquitos?
posted by Kabanos at 9:25 AM on May 14, 2015


Yes, part of me has missed gilded ages. For a while there we were distributing wealth and power more equally and doing things primarily through collective decisions via government. It did give people more input into how society's resources would be used to benefit us all, but it led to a lot of dull stuff designed by committees. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would never have built Neuschwanstein, for instance.

So that part of me welcomes a return to our previous social model of deciding how to use our society's resources by giving those resources to a handful of elites and seeing what kind of weird, eccentric shit they come up with.
posted by Naberius at 9:28 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


South Bay NIMBYs scuttle proposal to add housing to their town, film at 11
posted by en forme de poire at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Itaxpica: " I didn't realize that Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studio were expert programmers. "

They were hired by Google for the work and I feel like maybe (just maybe) you knew that. BIG/ Heatherwick are executing their client's designs.
posted by boo_radley at 9:36 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


More Songs Disruptions About Buildings Terrariums and Food Soylent
posted by codacorolla at 9:36 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read the links and, while the futuristic renderings look fantastic(ally expensive), there is no indication of what concrete problems this design actually solves for humanity.

It might make a nice terrarium for Page, Brin and Schmidt to play with humans within, but once you get past the utopian marketing babble, what does it actually do for everyone else?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Design features repeated across many very different cultures over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, tend to map to efficiently and effectively meeting deep, persistent human needs.


I miss Google Reader too.
posted by srboisvert at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


> It often feels like Silicon Valley has a massive case of Not Invented Here syndrome.

A reinvention is a patent you can profit from.
posted by ardgedee at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Let's all look back at the last episode of When Billionaires Poop.
posted by Ratio at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2015


Having read the major article and moved beyond the pictures, it doesn't sound that revolutionary. In fact, it sounds like the archetypal college campus that has existed for a few hundred years. Many rooms on a college campus are already multi-use, although that's delegated by an administrative assistant, and not a "crab bot". Most campuses are built as green spaces, with those green spaces being re-purposed for exercise and socialization. Most campuses give rooms for ad hoc group collaboration and for individual focused study. The fact that it's taking place under glass bubbles is noteworthy, I guess, but otherwise it seems like a lot of things that the campus I'm on has been doing for years and years.

That is all to say, it actually sounds like a pleasant work experience. The campus experience is among my favorite things about working at a University.
posted by codacorolla at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


People love the idea of building 20. I don't think anything intentionally built could duplicate either the zeitgeist or the smell it had.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, don't knock biodomes. The Eden Project is cool. Abd we're all going to be living in domed cities eventually. Just be glad Google hasn't decided to build Googleplex 2.0 on the seabed. You know it would if it could.

The most interesting aspect of all these grandiose projects for me is the question - what happens when the parent company goes away? When the money to keep them running either comes from somewhere else, or just stops? How adaptable are they for very different economic models - what is the underlying assumption ("Google is immortal" for this, "America will always rule the automotive world" for Detroit. "Oil gives us all the money, then the money gives us all the money" for Dubai) which actually underpins the motivation and justification for the project?

There will be holes from which, when you fall in, you cannot climb out. Conversely, with infinite resources, you can make anything work. Bur I'd be really interested to see a place built for humans that anticipates the sort of economic cycles which will happen. Or is that something which no engineering can dare admit?
posted by Devonian at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rethinking city structure and its infrastructure is long past due. We no longer need broad avenues that allow the king to send chariots to the walls, but we do need a way to account for dense populations to live in comfort.

Googlopolis seems like a good effort. However, I'm reminded of Arcosante, near Phoenix, which also seemed like a good idea: using the climate instead of ignoring it, and taking the internal combustion engine out of the equation. In that case the Arizoniodes couldn't quite get their heads into the project. I believe this was because they built it next to Scottsdale, and failed to put in the requisite golf course. If we lived in city-states like the Greeks of yesteryear we might be more receptive to such shifts in the paradigm now built around the needs of the petroleum industry.

This modern version speaks to seque-riding techno-nerds, but seems somehow insulated from the rest us. It's not fair to be overly critical. After all, this presentation wasn't meant to be comprehensive. They didn't show where the servants would live, or where the street people would piss. Also, I guess they had some scheme for removing the bird shit from the roof.

There presenters didn't actually say that the campus would be self sufficient, but merely more eco-friendly. I assume, then, that the less eco-friendly items they consume would be produced by the proles who lived elsewhere. Maybe community gardens could provide food, and they could carry their groceries home on little trailers hooked up to their suques. I presume the carnivores among the residents would have to step off campus to enjoy a grease burger or taco, or else the meat trucks could simply back up to the city's gate and offloaded by the burackumen.

I mostly enjoyed (the way they were) toying with the idea of getting closer to the nature under the plastic roof. I mean, nature is cool, but rain is generally a drag. I guess the residents of Mountain View haven't yet warmed up to the 21st Century either.

I'm thinking that the idea is a good one, but its implementation will have to wait until after the apocalypse, when we'll have ample space to rebuild, and the Dear Leaders can show us the true way.
posted by mule98J at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


You don't go to work for Google without drinking the goddamn Kool-Aid

I sure did!

But I got fired, so I'm pretty much just proving your point here.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Take your techno-utopian factory town and shove it

Urban planning meetings and Johnny Paycheck songs have remarkably little overlap.

You don't go to work for Google without drinking the goddamn Kool-Aid

You do actually. You want to find a bunch of google haters having lunch together? Check a google cafeteria.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or is that something which no engineering can dare admit?

I suspect that it's not so much that engineers can't admit it, it's that the people who pay them will not admit it, and therefore they are effectively paid to ignore it. Every CEO is fundamentally a megalomaniac, building so that the mighty may look upon their works and despair.
posted by aramaic at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of reading comments on Hacker News the other day whining about how the "basic design" of horizontal axis wind turbines hadn't changed for hundreds of years, therefore it must be defective and ripe for "disruption". It often feels like Silicon Valley has a massive case of Not Invented Here syndrome.

There have been vertical-axis windmill designs for years. AT least the 70's. Maybe there are much older ones.

The real takeaway here is that commenters on Hacker News talk out of their ass in every single comment they make. They're not high-functioning autistics, they're high-functioning morons.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I will point out, for those that want to bathe in Google-related schadenfreude after reading this plan, that currently Google has deployed portable outdoor toilet stalls across its main campus because they've made employee office space denser, resulting in insufficient toilets during peak hours. Well, insufficient toilets for male employees.

Which is more dystopian - a workspace that looks like a rejected set from Logan's Run or having to use a portapotty for your apres-lunch BM?
posted by GuyZero at 10:34 AM on May 14, 2015


Well, the City Council of Mountain View turned Google down, in favor of letting LinkedIn build ten regular, boring office buildings without any housing. Not a good choice in my opinion, as the extra housing Google proposed would alleviate traffic.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:42 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


the pictures remind of the Lost island.

not the scenery so much as the weird invisible sonic walls, the planned townish areas, and the smoke monster.

i don't see the cages with the buttons for the fish biscuits tho. maybe those are in a different link than what i clicked...
posted by sio42 at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2015


If there's one thing Mountain View folks don't want, it's more housing. More housing means more voters, means existing houses aren't so precious. Google shot themselves in the foot by even mentioning housing.
posted by aramaic at 11:02 AM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


It will make for fascinating ruins when Google is long gone from the world a hundred years from now.
posted by touchstone033 at 11:10 AM on May 14, 2015


I saw something about this a couple months ago. I'm probably dating myself but it just makes me think of Logan's Run, Buck Rogers, and all that 70s sci-fi that always seemed to feature a city under a dome.
posted by dnash at 11:36 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess I admire the attempt at something new. But does anyone remember the lessons from yesterday?

A Year in the Metabolist Google Future of 1972 2015
posted by ghostiger at 12:03 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it's Centre Parcs, right?
posted by cromagnon at 1:48 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Logan's Run

Is that why nobody in the architectural renderings looks over 40?
posted by Wemmick at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's the Bay Area, you're ageless until you spontaneously disintegrate one day.
posted by GuyZero at 2:45 PM on May 14, 2015


Which is more dystopian - a workspace that looks like a rejected set from Logan's Run or having to use a portapotty for your apres-lunch BM?

Or, Option C: spending 2.5h each way driving on a parking-lot-esque freeway from Northeast Brentwood, because you are actually a contractor and can't afford to live any closer.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:51 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


But really, why choose when we can have it all.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:51 PM on May 14, 2015


This really shows how spot on of a parody Hooli in silicon valley is. I'm surprised they haven't riffed on this already, and i bet they will soon.

They've made fun of google X so far, and that was pretty great.
posted by emptythought at 4:34 PM on May 14, 2015


I don't care that they are experimenting -- again -- with their work space in a big way. These are the same folks who imported toys and games into their office spaces, and who as they grew incorporated fine living features into their buildings, like a huge choice of good restaurants and workout areas and showers and on and on.

What bothers me about these concept drawings is the creepy way they remind me of sci fi stories about people who live in hermetically sealed domes because their outside world has been destroyed. Google's concept looks like a gilded naturalistic cage. Me, I like the idea that the workers get to go home.
posted by bearwife at 4:54 PM on May 14, 2015


Me, I like the idea that the workers get to go home.

About a year ago, I flirted with the idea of working for this young, fresh startup, that had all kinds of cool perks and a great 'company culture.'
One of the perks was free onsite laundry service, which sounded nice, right up until I realized what that meant about work-life balance.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:59 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


For additional office and meeting space, modular rooms can be added, stacked, and removed as needed. To accomplish this, Google says it will invent a kind of portable crane-robot, which it calls crabots, that will reconfigure these boxes and roam the premises like the droids in Star Wars.

This is kind of adorable. My friend's six-year-old is constantly "inventing". He draws pictures of amazing and unlikely spaceships, or buildings, or products, and then explains earnestly about how they are really easy to build. We just have to first invent something else, the function of which is to build impossible spaceships. Crabot is exactly the sort of name he would come up with.
posted by lollusc at 6:40 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


What bothers me about these concept drawings is the creepy way they remind me of sci fi stories about people who live in hermetically sealed domes because their outside world has been destroyed.

Sci Fi tends to be distopic because nice places to live aren't all the fun to write about or to read ("Sue and Marty lived happy fulfilling lives, through their second centuries surrounded by loving friends and family. The End."). We almost never see daily life in the Federation or in The Culture, for example. The stories are largely what happens on the boarders and the war zones and the cultures in conflict with them. Stories about sealed cities, Logan's Run, Judge Dred, THX-1138, Dark City, the Starlost, tend to be about terrible places, because escape stories are fun.

Will the Googleplex be putting crystals on the backs of their programmers' hands?

Maybe that's why both they and Cupertino are pushing biometric wearables right now. Coincidence? Hmmm.
posted by bonehead at 8:37 AM on May 15, 2015


What about mosquitos?

Drought.

More seriously, mosquitoes are not the problem in coastal California that they are in other areas (including the river delta in Sacramento but especially including regions which receive more than fifteen inches of rain a year).

Northern California does have some weather though so I'm not sure how that design would work. I mean, Mountain View isn't San Francisco but it's not San Diego either. It'll be interesting to see whether Google's architects revise the design as they try again for approval.
posted by librarylis at 11:23 AM on May 16, 2015


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