Google is building a new Googleplex, and worked bottom-up, crunching numbers to figure out what might work best.
Paul Goldberger, Exclusive Preview: Google’s New Built-from-Scratch Googleplex
What is really striking about this project, however, isn’t what the architecture will look like, about which renderings can show only so much anyway. It’s the way in which Google decided what it wanted and how it conveyed this to its architects. Google is, as just about everyone in the world now knows, the most voracious accumulator of data on the planet. When it decided to build a building, it did what it did best, which was to gather data. Google studied, and tried to quantify, everything about how its employees work, about what kind of spaces they wanted, about how much it mattered for certain groups to be near certain other groups, and so forth.
The layout of bent rectangles, then, emerged out of the company’s insistence on a floor plan that would maximize what Radcliffe called “casual collisions of the work force.” No employee in the 1.1-million-square-foot complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk from any other, according to Radcliffe. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said. “We want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”
What may be most significant is that the company’s research led to a design that isn’t substantially different from the existing Google buildings, just more so. The older buildings have a mix of private, quiet work spaces (though no private offices) and social and communal work spaces; so will the new one. The older buildings are full of cafés; the new complex will be, too. Radcliffe said that “the cafés were validated” in Google’s studies, as if anyone were surprised. The existing buildings have a relaxed and casual, even whimsical, quality to their interiors, as if to say that pleasure is a part of efficiency; I’m not sure how Google quantifies this except by seeing how many workers like it, but here, too, the plan is to continue on the same track, even if the new buildings aren’t likely to feel quite as improvised. And as the existing buildings have been retrofitted to conserve energy, the new ones will be even greener. And so on.
A lot of this seems like a statement of the obvious, but then again, lots of data is. And architecture, which is so often form-driven, doesn’t necessarily suffer from a bit more attention to factors other than shapes. “We started not with an architectural vision but with a vision of the work experience,” Radcliffe said. “And so we designed this from the inside out.”
Twisty buildings that subtly shape the contours of sociality? It will be interesting to hear if Google measures later on to see if they can actually influence coincidensity — the likelihood of serenditity — this way.
Note that I am not an advocate of isolated ‘plexes like these, designed almost without regard for the surrounds except as a backdrop to be viewed out the windows. It would have been much more radical for Google to build in an integrated way in a more urban space, and reject the strip mall sprawl that is inherent in this design.