Office Buildings of the Future (Part 2/2)


Like people, businesses function in a variety of cultures, usually influenced by a combination of corporate values and what others in their industries or sectors are doing. Some businesses operate with strictly scheduled employees and measure the individual’s progress, as just one example, while others promote a more relaxed environment with less structure.

Another, less well-recognized influence on a corporate culture is the very building that houses it. Think of large, glass-draped skyscrapers and the kinds of businesses—and cultures—that might occupy them. Now think of revamped, historic-looking lofts located in an industrial sector and what businesses might be located there.

Now think of those companies that have the resources to create a unique environment, specific to its carefully crafted culture. As you will soon read, innovation is at its best when company visionaries design not only their interior spaces, but also the entire building—from foundations to exteriors to landscaping—in a fully cohesive way.

(For an insider’s look at Canada’s most innovative office spaces, check out “Office Space of the Future,” Part One of this two-part series, here.)

Let’s look a little more closely at what a few innovators are doing in—where else?—Silicon Valley.


Apple: Embracing the “wow” factor

When Apple’s CEO at the time, the late Steve Jobs, brought in Foster + Partners to help design the company’s new headquarters, he made it clear he didn’t want to be treated as a client. Instead, he told them, he wanted to be treated like a partner.

Anyone familiar with the Apple brand can quickly see Jobs’ influence.


The design influence of the late Steve Jobs can be seen all over campus at Apple’s headquarters.

Look at the image and try to NOT think about the button on your iPhone, iPad or iPod. The sleek “spaceship” design of the 2.8 million square-foot building captures a look common among Apple products.

More of his influence? Only the best materials were used—and they were flown in from all over the globe. The building features more than six kilometres of glass, every piece of which was manufactured and “pre-curved” in Germany. Another example? Modern building design calls for a standard gap where walls and other surfaces—such as all that glass—come together to be one-inch wide. Jobs demanded the gap be reduced to a glass-grinding 1/32 of an inch.

The cafes, gyms and movie theatres rival the quality of any office building in the world, of course, but it’s the natural space both inside and outside Apple’s loop that provides the real “wow” factor. With 176 acres of natural beauty—an area more than four times the size of Lansdowne Park—it rivals just about any city park.

Taking environmentalism to even greater heights, the building uses natural ventilation much of the year in contrast to using energy-intense heating and cooling systems. As well, it sports large rooftop solar panels, enough to supply the entire complex with renewable energy.

This doesn’t come without a cost, of course. Coming in just south of USD$5 billion, it represents less than 3 percent of Apple’s reserves (about 0.07% of the company’s worth).


Google: Search and ye shall find

Google is desperately trying to throw its multi-coloured hat in the look-how-innovative-we-are ring but recently ran into a major stumbling block. Google showed up, plans in hand, in front of Mountain View (California) city council. They were turned away.

The city of Mountain View, which counts Google’s tax revenue as its major source of income, preferred to diversify, allowing LinkedIn to take the majority of the space Google had requested. The city council said the plans LinkedIn brought forward were “more realistic.” Some people can take only so much innovation.

Google will have to adjust it’s plans once it finds a suitable space to in which to build.

Google’s headquarters will be 3.4 million square feet in size and will resemble a giant green house—it has chosen the glass-bubble look over traditional walls and roofing. It’s interesting to note that the architectural technology needed to build the headquarters has never been used before. Google says it is prepared to work with architects to solve any challenges that arise.


Architectural drawings show Google’s new headquarters if only the company could find a place to build.

The most forward-thinking innovation that Google plans to unveil in its new headquarters is the concept of moveable buildings. Yes, moveable buildings, entire structures that are shuffled—much like you would rearrange the furniture in the living room—depending on the day’s requirements. Innovative? Absolutely. Useful? Time will tell. After all, it’s not yet a reality.


Facebook: A work in progress

Innovation continues at the new Facebook headquarters, a Menlo, California, business complex that opened March 30, 2015. While Apple goes for a smooth and shiny finish and the Google plans are several shades of green, Facebook’s new building is best described as, well, simple. Unfinished, even.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a hand in the design—his goal seems to be to keep it looking like it’s not quite done, that it is continuing to evolve. This, he says, is in keeping with Facebook’s perception that the company itself is still evolving. Technology companies are notorious for starting out in someone’s garage—this design is an attempt to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive.

With its open floor plan and its 22-foot ceilings, the building looks more like a house—a very big house—than an office complex. It boasts 434,000 square feet on a single floor. There are no private offices, but the 2,800 employees will have access to private areas or big open spaces depending on the task du jour.

Although the nine-acre park on the roof has giant rooftop swings and long, winding walking paths, it still shows the minimalistic style you’ll see throughout the rest of the building.


Unlike Apple and Google—or, at least, Google’s plans Facebook has gone decidedly minimalist .


Will Ottawa see similar innovation?

Recently, there has been a surge of sorts in the Ottawa region’s high-technology sector. Will we see this kind of innovation here? After all, you don’t have to look far to find inspiration—there are plenty of examples of innovative workplaces that embody the values of the company within its walls. That is, assuming it has walls.

When it comes to building design, with few exceptions, Ottawa is not known for architectural innovation. Keep your eyes open, though, as this new wave of high-technology companies look to make their office-space dreams come true.



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