Facebook Campus Designed For Evolving Company Culture

By Sharon Simonson

Facebook leaders worried the company would lose its startup culture and distinct genetics when it left downtown Palo Alto. So they remade its new one-million-square-foot Menlo Park campus—a dated Sun Microsystems Inc. leftover—in the image of its previous home.

Workers now walk, bike and otherwise travel a paved, delineated Main Street with a gentle curve that seamlessly connects the collection of formerly stand-alone buildings. The company’s transparent, flat culture is reflected in the workspace, where not even top executives have private offices, where bridges connect buildings’ upper floors and self-opening doors allow workers to pass unimpeded.

Street-level kiosks are available for workers to fix bicycles. On site services include things such as dry cleaning and a barber’s shop. A large, open central square anchors the 57-acre campus, as does a generous cafeteria.

But even with this level of re-positioning and improvement, the campus still doesn’t match the company’s culture to perfection. That is what it intends to do at its Frank Gehry-designed West Campus, where it proposes a single three-story building. The second level, with more than 433,000 square feet, would be entirely open offices that float nearly 20 feet above ground—high enough to accommodate a surface-level, 1,540-space parking lot below. Both are beneath a roof-deck park perched nearly 50-feet in the air that includes extensive landscaping, a circular walking path and a serpentine ramp to connect the park to lower floors. “We are a product and engineering company. It is one building with one room where we will have one product team in one space with nearly 500,000 square feet,” John Tenanes, director of global real estate for Facebook, told a Silicon Valley audience Oct. 15 at the Worktech12 annual conference.

The company spent its early years in downtown Palo Alto, mushrooming from one buiding to the next as its growth demanded. In 2009, it moved to the neighboring Stanford Research Park, but by the following year, found itself again in need of a place to grow. “Despite the consumer success, it was a very risky time for Facebook. Start-up space is by definition improvised. That formulates the corporate culture, and those molecules can easily be lost when a company becomes corporate,” Tenanes said.

Facebook hired Gensler architects to help in the transition. The result is the constantly changing Main Street configuration outside and interiors where employees create the art that fills walls that are now evolving from day-to-day, too. The nine buildings have “very different personalities,” said Gensler’s Randy Howder. “This can be messy sometimes, but this is who they are. It is not for everybody.”

“This place looked like an Italian convalescent home,” Tenanes said. “Often architects want to design a space. We wanted Gensler to undesign the space. We have infused the campus with a ton of amenities. We are having great success with a doctor’s office and sushi. By creating this urban environment, the employees are really happy to hang out.”

The point was to allow the still-young Facebook culture to continue to form and grow, Howder said. “We wanted space that allowed for ongoing experimentation for a culture that hasn’t yet fully developed. We do not want to allow a rigid standards and approvals process where you end up with a cube farm and everyone is miserable.”