Google office-watching has become something of a pastime on the Internet. The search giant is known for its playful, unconventional workspaces—perhaps intended to offset its fairly Vader-esque public image, and certainly, to sweeten the deal for young, in-demand engineers who may be juggling other offers. In Pittsburgh, Googlers enjoy an industrial theme and slides. In Zurich, it’s birch trees and meeting cocoons. Meanwhile, in London, Google has two established offices—one is industrial chic, the other, a space-age white box. Now, a third office—a "Super HQ"—has opened on the eighth floor of Central Saint Giles, the Renzo Piano-designed tower in Covent Garden.
When Tim Maly wrote about Google’s second London location last year, he called it a "giddy exercise in science fiction," full of slick white details and retro-futuristic furniture. If Stanley Kubrick was the patron saint of that office, Mr. Bean must be the mascot of the new HQ. Both were designed by Penson Architects, who have turned the new 160,0000-square-foot office space into a Anglophilic vision, complete with Union Jack pillows and cozy grandfather rockers. Wood paneling, pillowed leather upholstery, and a velvet-curtained town hall reinforce the theme.
Programmatically, the massive space is divided up into a few distinct types. Penson calls the cafe a "granny flat" for its cozy, all-wood look—surrounded by a growing hedge. A long terrace has been converted into an allotment garden, where each Google employee will be able to cultivate their own crops. Anyone who lets their tub go to seed gets kicked off the list, and the next name moves up to take over. Leather and tweed-clad meeting pods hold smaller gatherings, and a gym, dance studio, and a bike dryer round out the amenities.
"It’s all about human beings and that’s it!" writes principal Lee Penson. "The Google stereotype is not in throwing money at it, it’s about designing your heart out with a ‘normalish budget.'" Good timing!