Facebook’s glamorous new headquarters will make you hate your cubicle

31 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Moves Into Its New Garden-Roofed Fantasyland.

Facebook Inc. has moved into the company’s new 430,000-square-foot complex in Menlo Park, Calif., which chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says features “the largest open floor plan in the world.” The office is called MPK 20 (for “Menlo Park, Building 20″) and was designed by Canadian-born Frank Gehry — the renowned architect behind the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall. But, Goler says, it feels a lot like the elevated railroad line that now serves as a park on the West Side of Manhattan. “It’s a half mile loop,” she says. “It gives space to think.” Goler, Facebook’s head of human resources and recruiting, is among the few who’ve walked the loop.

The social media giant’s vice president of global real state, John Tenanes, told Wired that “you can pretty much see all the way down the building.” The building is topped with a sprawling nine-acre park, complete with walking trails and green spaces. The new building – which features a nine acre living roof – sits across the street from the company’s main headquarters building and is the 20th facility on the campus of the social network. According to Wired, it blends with the lowlands of Menlo Park, similar to how New York City’s High Line garden complements the urban landscape in Chelsea and the Manhattan Meatpacking District. Apple is currently building a large new campus that looks like a spaceship and Google has put out a plan to develop a new space that looks like what you probably see when you exit that spaceship in the future. Spanning over 430,000 square feet in total, the new complex is just one of many rather conspicuous buildings that will house the giants of Silicon Valley in the years to come.

Facebook’s headquarters, in particular, is intended to house about 2,800 people — using the word “house” literally here, as the space is filled with enough nice perks to ensure that employees feel comfortable staying on campus longer. But as Silicon Valley bursts at its suburban seams, one tech company after another has been buying up properties throughout the region and embarking on ambitious development projects.

Facebook isn’t putting out many official pictures of the headquarters as employees are still moving in, but many employees and visitors have shared photos of the space on Instagram and Facebook. Google is using miles of glass to create a “super-transparent” headquarters in Mountain View that can be regularly reshaped by cranes and robots (yes, robots).

Apple Inc.’s construction of a new “spaceship”-like campus that features a $161-million underground auditorium for press events is well underway. Check out the rest of the photos at #MPK20firstlook I’ll be posting more throughout the day. ✌️ While the design is easy on the eyes, it has nonetheless managed to spark some controversy.

While most agree that it’s important to strike a balance between stoking collaboration and enabling focus, there’s little consensus on how best to do so. Some argue that open office plans make employees less productive by forcing them to work in noisy environments with no privacy, while others think that open office plans paired with noise-canceling headphones work just fine. The most charitable interpretation of all this is that Facebook is building the first arcology, like what the fantasist architect Paolo Soleri described and halfway (well, eighth-way) built at Arcosanti, his own little urban microcosm in the Arizona desert. Facebook paints itself as a company of “builders,” engineers who use software to create new things, hackers who turn one piece of code into something else. The company is really just creating a version of the company town, something that was all the rage among wealthy industrialists in the early 20th century.

Pullman, having grown sick of his employees complaining about things like wages, working conditions, and so on, decided that the solution to unruly employees was to build a nice town and then require them to live in it. In exchange for some Facebook stock that eventually made him quite wealthy, graffiti artist David Choe spray-painted those Palo Alto walls during the company’s earliest years in California. As the company expanded, across Silicon Valley and into New York and Dublin, it called on Choe and other artists—so many other artists—to recreate the vibe in new surroundings. But it feels so very new, thanks not only to the murals and the installations and the sculptures, but to the rather eclectic collection of posters, flags, furniture, and other gear that employees bring into each space.

Many of these were founded, like Pullman, “in order to improve workers’ conditions and avoid tensions and workers’ labor activism,” says Marcelo Borges, a historian at Dickinson College and expert on company towns. But at Facebook—a company that values “the hack” above all else—it’s the norm. “Our buildings are a kind of like an industrial canvas,” Tenanes says. “As teams move in, we encourage them to express themselves—whether that means art or furniture or posters. But many were strict fathers, dictating the minutiae of their grown employees’ lives, from picking the books in the library to restricting the availability of alcohol. It’s hard to imagine Facebook going that far, though the company does try to subtly influence its employees lives by offering such healthy freebies as on-site gyms, bike repair, and walking desks.

It’s a strategy that mimics what happened with some later company towns, which employed paternalism to better the company, not just employees’ lives. “Company welfare was seen as an important strategy to promote company loyalty and peaceful relations,” Borges says. Now, a development of under 400 units may not seem like much in a city of 33,000 people, but keep in mind the company currently employs 4,600 people at its current headquarters, and its flashy new Gehry office building will have space for 2,800.

In the last municipal election, just over 10,000 ballots were cast from 17,000 registered voters, a turnout which was “unusually high,” according to poll workers. It’s a 21st century company town—built by slowly, occasionally unintentionally, taking over a public entity, and building a juggernaut of a private institution in its place.

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