Silicon Valley’s Dueling Campuses

Samsung San Jose NBBJ The Registry real estate

By Sharon Simonson

Call it Star Wars.

By multiple accounts, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is an efficiency-minded company.

Its products are about helping people to more easily manage their lives, and the same ethos penetrates the corporate culture of the South Korean conglomerate, said NBBJ architect and partner Jonathan Ward.

Ward is overseeing the architectural and interior design of Samsung Semiconductor Inc.’s new, one million-square-foot North San Jose campus. He and NBBJ have done extensive work for Samsung beginning in the 1990s, including design of buildings at the company’s corporate headquarters near Seoul.

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“They wanted the [San Jose] buildings to be efficient. They don’t want something that can’t be used 20 or 30 years from now. They don’t want the buildings to be a distraction,” Ward said.

But as Samsung leaders have contemplated the architectural design of the new Silicon Valley campus, the South Korean electronics powerhouse has had to view efficiency against a particular backdrop: stiff competition for Silicon Valley’s precious technical talent. “They have to attract and recruit people who are working at Google and Facebook and other companies that have pretty aggressive workplace strategies,” Ward said. “We had to make a very strong, powerful workplace.”

On March 26, the San Jose City Council approved a re-development agreement with Samsung Semiconductor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, to build a new, 680,000-square-foot North American headquarters and research and development campus at 3655 N. 1st St.

The company, which already employs 370 at the site, expects to add 1,600 workers.

The overall project, conservatively valued at $200 million, includes office space, an amenities building, a cafeteria, conferencing and fitness centers.

The office building has a surprisingly nimble design. A central, open-air atrium connects the tower (some describe it as two towers) from the inside out. But its distinct profile from the outside looking on begs greater discovery. The 10-story building is conceived as a stack of three two-story office buildings separated—but also connected—by two, one-story open-air garden and amenity levels at floors five and eight. Each two-story stack is connected by two-story stairways. “The gardens function as a magnet and pull people in,” Ward said.

“Despite the unusual presence of these floating gardens, it’s a pretty simple building for multiple purposes,” he added.

Samsung is the latest Silicon Valley technology company to announce spectacular new corporate digs. Apple initiated the crescendo in mid-2011 when it unveiled its now-famous spaceship campus in Cupertino. Since then, Google Inc. in Mountain View, Facebook Inc. in Menlo Park and most recently Nvidia Inc. in Santa Clara all have unveiled futuristic new campuses.

The undertakings are being seen as an architectural sea change for Silicon Valley, which has long been derided for an uninspiring suburban profile. That profile reflects the valley’s history of technology hardware manufacturing and stingy venture capitalists unwilling to finance posh digs for start-ups. The new office campuses are meant to position companies for the future.

By redeveloping its existing 300,000-square-foot suburban campus, Samsung is establishing an urban prototype consistent with the city’s hopes for the entire 5,000-acre North San Jose area. With limited building setbacks from N. 1st St. and Tasman Drive, a 10-story office building and an eight-story parking garage rather than surface parking, the campus as designed “eliminates the character of these buildings being plunked down in a sea of asphalt,” Ward said.

Along with a star-shaped amenities building, the three new structures have just more than a million square feet, basically tripling the development density for the long-narrow site. And because of the buildings’ height, there is room for a public garden that faces Tasman.

Renderings courtesy of NBBJ

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