Facebook, Apple Embrace Great Architecture; Will Google?

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Retail and product design will also be impacted by big data, an emerging sphere of interest in which Silicon Valley also is immersed. According to a 2011 McKinsey Global Institute report, sensors embedded in goods like cell phones and smart phones in the hands of billions of users will send trillions of data bits back to their makers about how they are used (and not used), creating a continuous feedback loop that will constantly influence design.

Historically, industrial architecture assumed its shape based on the processes occurring inside it, Katz said. Because code writing occurs internally and technology’s speed simply overtook architecture’s inherent ability to respond, the ideal solution became as little individualism as possible.

“Early consumer electronics products were bland and even ridiculous initially. But in time designers overthrew that sterile ‘form-follows-function’ thing,” he said. “They began to see that the human body and imagination should be the guide to what something should look like, and that has begun to give rise to very exciting departures. So form follows what? Form follows emotion?’

In introducing Gehry’s oeuvre, Katigbak noted the architect’s design of the Guggenheim Museum and that Facebook had in essence emulated Gehry’s own Los Angeles workplace: “a giant warehouse.”

Speaking in January as part of a panel discussion entitled “The Urban Future of Work” sponsored by the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association, Katigbak described Facebook’s remake of the former Sun Microsystems Inc. campus, which is across the street from the proposed Gehry building. Culture is crucial, he said. His description of what goes on inside Facebook—a workplace with an “engineering culture”—did not seem bland at all: “Movements in culture are like flocks of birds,” he said.

The redo took the Sun campus, which had big distinctions between inside and outside and from one building to the next, to one in which workers don’t have assigned seating and there is constant flow from the indoors to the outdoors, from one work spot to another, as workers bob from place to place their laptops in tow.

“Culture is really what makes your job what it is,” he said. “We try to focus on fostering collaboration and maintaining that as you move from start-up to a larger company. Accessibility to people for us that is what it was all about. At first we crammed a lot of people in. We just did it to put people in close proximity.

The mission, he said, is “keeping our culture pretty tight.”

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