In order to attract and retain the best and brightest employees, technology firms and real estate developers are searching for the right elements when designing their new or renovated tech campuses in Silicon Valley, and they are now focusing on large floor plates that encourage interaction and collaboration along with a heavy dose of amenities and sustainability—not to mention iconic designs.
But there is no one-size-fits-all design to guarantee success, and what works well in one tech environment, such as San Francisco, may not hit the right buttons in Silicon Valley, said panelists discussing building trends in the tech sector at the June meeting of the Northern California chapter of CoreNet Global, a corporate real estate trade association, which was held in Sunnyvale.
The suburban/urban dilemma ostensibly began during World War II when AT&T Bell Laboratories was looking to leave its cramped Manhattan headquarters, said panelist Louise Mozingo, professor and chair of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design at the University of California, Berkeley. AT&T/Bell relocated to a 213-acre plot in Union County, N.J., in 1942, and the campus included a quadrangle surrounded by uniform buildings, she said. The buildings featured large windows and lounges, and the campus attracted the era’s leading scientists and engineers, eventually resulting in the invention of the bit and transistor, she added.
“Post-war, corporate America exploded and expanded offices into the peripheries of the urban centers,” said Mozingo, who authored “Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes” (MIT Press, 2011).
Following AT&T/Bell, other companies such as General Motors, IBM and John Deere also moved to set up suburban office parks. The campuses were “well- maintained and very serviceable, but with not particularly showy architecture, and were intended to capture employees for the entire workday,” she said, adding that they also were deliberately isolated from transportation other than the automobile.
In the future, Mozingo said that as an academic, she has to look at a “post-peak water and oil future.”
“We need to think about these landscapes that are very resource dependent,” she said, and if companies five years to a generation from now want to attract urban and urbane “brainy youngsters,” the campuses must become self-sufficient.
To hire and keep that young workforce, companies need to realize that millennials (born between 1977 and 1997), on average, stay in a job less than three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Thus comes the latest innovative plan by Menlo Park-based Landbank Investments LLC: Central and Wolfe. Panelist Scott Jacobs, Landbank’s CEO, gave a rundown on the developer’s new spec project, which is set on 18 acres at the intersection of Central Expressway and Wolfe Road in Sunnyvale.
“Two and a half years ago, we began studying what leading-edge tech companies are doing with their own buildings,” Jacobs said. “We saw that there were some major design themes that kept popping up over and over. What are these themes? Enhanced sustainability, elimination of surface parking, abundant open space, roof-top gardens, signature architecture, large floor plans and amenities galore. Ours will be a re-imagination of what tech campuses should be, which utilizes an exciting, enhanced user experience.”
The project’s sustainable elements include using mostly reclaimed water, preserving 53 percent of the site as open space and generating 18 percent of its electricity onsite. Central and Wolfe aims for LEED-platinum certification, though it actually will be “future ready” for zero net energy, meaning it could be set up with enough photovoltaic or solar thermal elements that it would not need energy off the utility grid, said Paul Woolford, design director at global architecture firm HOK, the project’s architect.
Woolford added that the approach to the project, which is expected to receive final environmental impact report approval from the city this fall, utilizes “different solutions” along with an integrated design process. For example, a biologist was included in the design team to study the surrounding ecosystem and offer ways to include the natural elements in the design.
Also at the event, Chris Glennon, head of global real estate for Inuit, said construction should begin this summer on the company’s campus expansion at 2600 Marine Way in Mountain View. The financial/tax software giant plans to build two 180,000-square-foot office buildings that will connect to an existing campus structure. The project will take approximately two years to complete, he said.
The addition of a “Main Street” at the site will “pull all the buildings together,” added Bryan Shiles, founding partner at San Francisco-based WRNS Studio, the project’s architect. The thruway will feature amenities, meeting rooms, exterior workspaces and an atrium. In all, Intuit purchased nine surrounding parcels that are adjacent to some Google campuses in the area.
At the conclusion of the session, Jacobs said office campuses are a reflection of the company.
“The new campus buildings, like our design, [create] new experiences,” said Jacobs, “and what they really do is make a statement about the values of the company.”