Silicon Valley might have gotten its name because of the compounds used most often at the beginning of the technology boom outside of the San Francisco area, but as two of its biggest inhabitants have unveiled plans for new campuses for the upcoming years, it’s clear that glass is the future. At least in terms of the buildings that will house many of the nation’s innovators, anyway. But perhaps the biggest difference isn’t in the way the architects chose to use glass, natural elements, and set up the new complexes. Instead, it’s much more about the atmosphere each company would like to have on its grounds.
Apple began working on its Campus 2 construction following the final approval of its plans by the Cupertino City Council in October 2013. The campus is expected to be complete by the end of 2016, and is often referred to as the “spaceship” because of its circular design. Google unveiled its plans for a redesigned campus in Mountain View in late February 2015. All of those plans will have to go before the city council for review and approval, but if the plans proceed as drawn, Google and Apple will continue to lead the way in architectural innovation within the valley.
Both campuses have rejected the eyesores of parking lots and designed ways to bring nature and innovation into one cohesive space. Apple is building an underground parking garage for most of the vehicles that are on the campus, and is constructing two other parking garages to sit in a far corner, complete with solar panels on top and cascading greenery on the sides. Google’s redesigned campus will also have underground parking, and use the space above to recreate native ecosystems and waterways.
Neither company is skimping on materials for the new complexes. Steve Jobs, in his last public appearance, spoke to the Cupertino City Council about Apple’s proposed building, and described the 40-foot floor-to-ceiling concave glass panels that would serve as the walls on either side of the building. “There isn’t a straight piece of glass on the whole building … and as you know if you build things, this isn’t the cheapest way to build them,” Jobs added. The entire project is estimated to cost about $5 billion, and is the product of designs by architect Norman Foster.
Google, not to be outdone, released its proposal last week to expand its Mountain View campus. Perhaps one of the most striking design elements is the plans to put movable office structures under a canopy of glass in a mix between a greenhouse and a circus tent. The design is the result of a collaboration between renowned architects Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick, and the goal is to bring nature into the work environment, while also giving tribute to the work that is done in Silicon Valley, Heatherwick said in Google’s introductory video. “We have a duty to reflect in the physical environment the values that have been manifested in the innovations that have come out from this part of California,” he said.
The architects and Google’s vice president of real estate, David Radcliffe, also know that the future within the tech industry is an unpredictable one. As such, the company’s new headquarters will be constructed with movable parts underneath the canopies, so spaces can be rearranged to accommodate new projects. “The idea here is simple,” Radcliffe says, later comparing the pieces to the Lincoln Logs of yesteryear. “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.”
Both companies have also vowed to focus on sustainability in their new spaces: Radcliffe wrote in his blog about the plans that the company’s agreement to offset their energy consumption in the North Bayshore area with renewable energy “includes the development of this proposal.” Along with the solar panels on the parking garages, Apple’s entire spaceship roof will be outfitted with additional panels, with the campus hooked into Cupertino’s power grid as backup. Plus, 80% of the campus will be “green space,” and the main building will go without air conditioning or heat for at least 70% of the year because of a natural ventilation system, according to Lisa Jackson, the company’s vice president of environmental initiatives. Jackson, for what it’s worth, headed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Obama administration before leaving to join Apple in 2013.
Though finer details are scant from Google, which hasn’t begun the approval process yet with Mountain View officials, the renderings show the company’s attempt to blend nature and the world of technology, all under its glass roof. Outdoor wetlands and ecosystems are also expected to be a major part of the campus design. Apple is planning to leave nature outside, but is bringing it to the employees’ windows: The company has said it will plant orchards and increase the number of trees on the property from 3,700 to at least 6,000.
But despite the number of similarities between the two (the glass, the trees, the sleek designs), there is one area where the companies depart from one another. While Google’s space is designed to bring nature, innovators, and the community together, Apple’s space is designed for the utmost security. Google’s space will have bike paths, shopping, restaurants, and more that’s available for employees, but also for the community. “Today, we want to create office spaces that don’t just provide a great home for Google, but which also work for the city that has given us so much,” Radcliffe wrote in his blog post.
Apple, in contrast, will not extend an open invitation to the public past its visitors center. In its planning documents, Apple outlined its goals for the building like this: “Achieve the security and privacy required for the invention of new products by eliminating any public access through the site, and protecting the perimeters against trespassers.” Before the building is even completed, Apple has had security personnel patrolling the grounds of the new site 24/7. And though the campus will have walking trails for its employees, they won’t be opened to the public.
Though Apple won’t be providing open access, Cupertino did approve the plans for the new campus and construction is in process. Google will still have to receive approval, and could also face competing bids for its new space. But if it is truly the utopia that the renderings help us to envision, and the campus is open to the public, perhaps it will meet less resistance than what other companies have faced during the public vetting process.
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