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First Look: Google's New Digs By Thomas Heatherwick And Bjarke Ingels

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Earlier this week, The New York Times broke the news that Internet giant Google is planning new starchitect-designed headquarters by Bjarke Ingels Group and Thomas Heatherwick. Not to be outdone by Apple's Norman Foster-designed spaceship or Facebook's Frank Gehry-designed offices, the new Mountain View Googleplex will be a series of canopy-inspired buildings that break out of Silicon Valley's boring office park mold. The greenhouse-style transparent buildings are surrounded by running tracks, peaceful meadows, and a flowing creek.

The design shown in the new renderings is a little reminiscent of the biodome Amazon is building in Seattle. The swooping buildings are topped by transparent canopies that turn them into circus tent-like atriums.

"The idea is simple," Google's David Radcliffe wrote on the company's blog. "Instead of constructing immoveable concrete buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas. (Our self-driving car team, for example, has very different needs when it comes to office space from our Search engineers.)"

Parking will be located beneath the buildings, trading ugly asphalt for a greater opportunity for landscape design. The images depict bicycle paths, tree-shaded meadows, and even a babbling brook criss-crossed by pedestrian bridges. Running and cycling paths are woven throughout the interiors as well. According to Google, there will be a public plaza with retail space for local shops and cafes.

Bjarke Ingels Group and Thomas Heatherwick Studio, both named as some of the most innovative companies in architecture by Fast Company, are known for their inventive, playful designs that balance sustainability and adaptive reuse with a sense of fun. Heatherwick is planning a pier park that rises out of old piles stretching into the river from Manhattan, and BIG is working on a pyramid-like, 600-unit New York City housing development and turning a Danish power plant into a ski slope.

Silicon Valley is a quintessentially suburban place, with sprawling office parks dotting the landscape. BIG says it is attempting to make Google's new offices feel less like a corporate island and more a part of urban life. "Together with Heatherwick Studio and Google we have set out to imagine the work environments of future Googlers to be as adaptable, flexible and intelligent as the rest of Google's wide spanning portfolio," BIG founder Bjarke Ingels said in a press statement. "Rather than an insular corporate headquarters, Google North Bayshore will be a vibrant new neighborhood of Mountain View." Though, of course, as tech companies tend to be notoriously secretive, it's more likely that the Googleplex will be an insular city in its own right than a major player in the urban life of its surrounding community. Either way, the development is sure to reshape the urban fabric of Mountain View.


However, it’s unclear whether the rest of Mountain View will approve. As the Times reported, there’s tension between the small city and its largest employer. Much of the city’s bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic comes from Google commuters, and home prices there are rising rapidly, but the city council has previously nixed Google’s proposals to build housing and bring even more Google-ites into town.

Google's existing Silicon Valley headquarters are famous (and oft-parodied) for espousing a quirky culture and world-class amenities that are replicated in satellite offices around the world. But architecturally, the Googleplex leaves much to be desired. The company has been trying to take over the world from a set of pretty run-of-the-mill suburban office buildings. With a new campus by some of the most creative architectural minds working today, Google is sure to have a look that matches the scope of its corporate ambition.

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