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Google’s Newly Approved HQ Is The Perfect Metaphor For Silicon Valley

This week, Mountain View’s city council unanimously approved a scaled-back design for Google’s new campus. The 595,000-square-foot building, by Bjarke Ingels Group and Thomas Heatherwick, is expected to be completed in late 2019.

The project, known as Charleston East, has gone through many iterations since it was first revealed in 2015. Most notably, the project–essentially a campus of buildings set beneath transparent canopies–had to be reconfigured for a smaller site. Gone is the network of Frei-Otto-meets-Buckminster-Fuller domes. In their stead is an opaque, solar panel–clad roof. In renderings, the design looks decidedly more grim. (But at least it’s no longer a physical representation of the metaphorical Silicon Valley bubble.)

The architects had also originally proposed assembling the prefab structures with an armada of robotic cranes. That seems to have fallen by the wayside, too. (BIG was not available to comment.)

What remains? A network of bike paths and open space is still an essential part of the plan. Google also plans to plant 300 trees on the site to replace the 200 it has to cut down. And the company promises to make the campus accessible to non-Google employees, unlike the traditionally insular campuses of competitors like Apple.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the symbolism. Scaling back the size and ambition of the project is a fitting metaphor for Silicon Valley today: an industry that once peddled a gleaming vision of the future is now more closely associated with a dystopian nightmare where our gadgets spy on us, Machiavellian CEOs are engaging in dubious business practices, and algorithms are screwing with democracy.

[All Images: via Heatherwick Studio]DB