Google’s new campus: team neighbourhoods catch the eye

This WORKTECH Academy Briefing looks at the flexible, modular workspaces under the curved roofs of Google’s Big View campus in Silicon Valley

Much of the attention devoted to the May 2022 opening of Google’s new Big View campus in Silicon Valley has naturally focused on its external architecture.

With its sweeping series of inwardly curved tent-like canopies stretched over slim white columns and its 50,000 silver solar panels burnishing the eco-credentials of the project, Google’s latest major workplace project certainly captures the imagination.

But, for the WORKTECH community, the design decisions made by architects BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) with Heatherwick Studio inside this spectacular new complex are what really matter in terms of providing a glimpse of the future of work in the post-pandemic era.

The 1.1 million square feet campus in Mountain View, California, comprises two office buildings alongside an events centre and 240 short-term accommodation units for employees. Inside the office buildings, gathering and social spaces are arranged below vast upper-floor office floors that are designed to be flexible within a gridded, modular layout to meet changing needs.

‘Cubicles and partitions are back, helping to demarcate different team zones…’

Google says it wanted to create a ‘neighbourhood’ feel for teams assigned to different spaces, so there is ample use of curtains, transparent walls and planter partitions to break up the space. Cubicles and partitions are back, helping to demarcate different team zones.

If all this might sound like ‘back to the future’, then consider that when Facebook (now Meta) opened its new Menlo Park office in 2015, designed by Frank Gehry, its vast open workspace covering more than 1 million square feet contained not one single enclosed office space. How times have changed.

Investment brings relief

Google’s continued investment in landmark new offices is clearly a source of relief for a global real estate industry rightly anxious about the value of commercial office space in the era of hybrid working. The tech giant has not just unveiled its Big View campus in California, it has also concluded the biggest real-estate deal in New York for a single building since the pandemic began with its US $2.21 billion purchase of St John’s Terminal in lower Manhattan.

Built in 1934 by the New York Central Railroad and designed originally to house more than 200 freight trains, this iconic structure is set to be transformed into a groundscraper housing Google’s 12,000 New York employees.

According to a blog written by Google’s chief financial officer Ruth Porat,  ‘As Google moves toward a more flexible hybrid approach to work, coming together in person to collaborate and build community will remain an important part of our future. It is why we continue investing in our offices around the world.’

But before the workplace industry cracks open the champagne, research on employees returning to the office brings more sobering news. A new Accenture study suggests that the share of workers who feel ‘not connected’ to their employer is nearly double for those back in the office (42 per cent) than for those who are still working remotely (22 per cent).

According to Bloomberg, such results call into question all those company bosses who are mandating their workforces back to the workplace – and giving them no choice in the matter. If the views of employees are simply ignored when they are back in the office, then engagement scores are bound to be low.

Stage set for Stockholm   

As the real estate industry ponders its next move, experts in the Swedish market are taking action on how to create high-performing hybrid workplaces. Join the conversation at the WORKTECH Stockholm conference on Thursday 9 June at At Six in Stockholm. Expert panellists from Meta, Vasakronan, Nordea, SEB & Telia will debate the next move for corporate real estate and what that might look like from a landlord and occupier perspective.

WORKTECH22 Stockholm has partnered with EY to debate global and local trends emerging in the future of work and innovation. Secure your place here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 1 June 2022.
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