Do corporate parks provide a return on green investment?
Silicon Valley’s tech giants are constructing new parks on a grand scale. There are good reasons why they are emulating the pioneers of the past and building in closeness to nature
Any size of corporation or business can benefit from ample outdoor space or built-in connections to nature. Working outdoors helps people focus, or it can help them imagine and collect their thoughts. Being outside allows us to recharge, stave off burnout, and return to high-performance tasks much more prepared.
Some of the largest corporations in the world are putting their money to building parks. We are not just talking about small gardens or planted atriums. We’re talking about naturalistic spaces that appear as if they’ve always inhabited the surrounding spaces, roofs and parking lots of the buildings where they grow. Some are meant to be used—walked and explored—while others are meant to help increase sustainability efforts by providing natural solutions to heating and cooling needs or oxygen boosts into the atmosphere.
Silicon Valley corporations understand how nature positively impacts productivity, wellbeing and sustainability efforts—so much so that many invest in developing world-class park-like areas onsite.
A rooftop park
Case in point, Facebook hired the architecture firm Gehry and Partners, along with landscape architects CMG, to develop a nine-acre parkland for their headquarters. The collaborators embarked on the epic project of creating a rooftop park that also facilitates natural light.
The otherwise simple suspended office slab, with a nimble and multifunctional roof, required the building structure to be calculated to account for both the weight of wet soil and full-grown trees, plus two storeys of building weight. A superlative effort to achieve, the space provides a glorious landscape—employees working at desks overlooking the roof of MPK20 feel completely outside the office.
Idyllic Californian field
When Apple Park was released to the public—in what became Steve Jobs’ last public appearance, where he presented his ‘spaceship’ building landing in Cupertino—the iconic circular building was shown immersed amidst idyllic tall grasses, full-grown oak trees, and an orchard that allegedly produces up to 20 per cent of the fruit consumed onsite.
When the building opened sometime around 2017, the park appeared as if it were there all along. The comfort and familiarity of the outdoor space was the result of months of preparation—supported by the work of local arborists, Stanford’s own David Muffly, his team, and the design work of landscape architect, Laurie Olin.
As many drone flyovers show, there has never been a field in the middle of Cupertino quite like Apple Park. Impervious asphalt once covered the 176 acres. Although cars are still used to drive to, and park at Apple, they have disappeared beneath the park—in-favour of the glorious views of nature over concrete and metal jungles.
When we consider the park-building efforts of private companies today, we must pay homage to the public authorities of the past whose feats of construction created great exemplars in the field. As with Apple Park, Central Park in New York was equally constructed from scratch. The massive natural space was designed by the famed American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, in collaboration with Calvert Vaux. Part of Olmstead’s task was to design how the park would be maintained, used and paid for.
Build that park
What is the ROI (return on investment) for a corporate park? When parks are created, how the space functions and who pays for it are important factors to consider. Everything has a cost. But the fact is, any connection to the natural world has the potential to boost employee wellbeing, productivity, and building efficiency—which will always help your bottom line.
In fact, the modular, walkable green roof of Haworth’s global headquarters—45,000 sq ft in total—is made up of 11 varieties of sedum set in 22,500 trays made from recycled chair production material. LiveRoof fully vegetated modules allow for sharing of water, nutrients, and beneficial organisms across the entire rooftop for natural function and beauty. They also minimise regulated heat and moisture, and avoid compartmentalising the growing medium into an unnatural container as is the case with some other modular systems.
Although Haworth did not receive any financial incentives for implementing green stormwater infrastructure, the benefits outweigh the costs in utilising a sustainable solution. In fact, upkeep has proven cheaper than conventional roofs due to the modular nature of the roof-specific components, which can be replaced without having to address the roof. General maintenance requirements (primarily weed management) also are low.
Corporations that build parks aren’t just supporting people today and tomorrow, they are building a sustainable legacy—and the results are gratifying to behold.