'Like' this new Facebook campus

'Like' this new Facebook campus

You may have come up with the idea of a technology that has taken the world by storm, and you may have done it in a dorm room, but when you need an awe-inspiring campus to match up to the standards of the company you have built, you run to renowned architects. This is what happened when Mark Zuckerberg wanted a new campus for Facebook. He went to Frank Gehry, a world-famous architect who has designed structures like the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, Guggenheim Museum in Spain, Wal Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and so on.

30-year-old Mark Zuckerberg preferred cheap, generic space that could be rearranged at whim and adapted to whatever work pattern best harnessed the hacker ethos to hatch new ideas. He was wary of architecture as a badge of status, of preening aesthetics. But he was looking for a way to move Facebook’s workplace culture to a new level of fluidity and transparency.

The two men discovered common ground when Mark visited Frank’s office. Mark found an unassuming informality, with plywood tables loosely organised and architectural models stacked most of the way to the high, sky-lighted ceiling. Frank said Mark loved it. “He said he wanted one big room, like my office, but 10 acres.” This led to the present campus, which has taken a short 40 months to commission.

Frank designed a campus for Facebook, which has 22-foot ceilings, twice the standard office height. The main building allows Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to walk from one end and pass through the whole campus. Curving pathways loop through groups of the desk clusters, called “neighbourhoods,” that host product teams. The walkways pass boxy cubes in wood that enclose conference rooms. Saturated colours cover many of the rooms; some are festooned by artists and some pile up to look like tiny villages.

Mark has transcended the frat-boy tech-company style of free pizza and foosball to manifest his products’ style of sharing, collaborating, and organising face-to-face sociability. The building space encompasses 4,34,000 square feet on one floor. No one has a private office, so that everyone, including Mark, is on view and accessible. Yet this monumental vastness is surprisingly matter-of-fact, seemingly the product of pure process rather than of design. The use of no-nonsense metal, glass and white exterior bumps in and out, is punctuated by wide, utilitarian stairways.

Basically, the campus is a high-tech forest with intimate corridors passing between conference clusters. They then open to expanses of desks where the sun streams down from skylights above. Your stroll through the campus will take you past snack kitchens with lounge seating,  where again daylight pours in from 15-foot-high windows. You can end your walk at a cafe or cafeteria (three meals served daily, free), more than a quarter mile later.

Uniting 2,800 staffers on one giant floor of a single building, Mark takes the idea of a flat hierarchy to its logical conclusion. He and his management team sit in the middle of the floor, placing the maximum number of people at close range. Within the neighbourhoods, people can turn or twist their desk clusters to optimise the visual and physical proximity of those with whom they work most closely. The messiness that confounds the visitor thus reflects a hive-like order ruled by interaction.

The entire roof of the structure is covered with a garden, which is accessible throughout the building via elevators and the external stairs and ramps. Gravel paths wander among mature trees, mounded shrubs, and drought-tolerant grasses, offering views of mountains and an expanse of San Francisco Bay. The garden makes space for meetings (white boards are provided), naps and quiet contemplation, fueled by coffee stands and a cafe.

Unlike most tech companies, the facility feels less adolescently male than many tech workplaces, and even provides mothers rooms for nursing. Critics call the plan somewhat invasive but every design has its pros and cons. Given its uniqueness, there is no reason not to ‘like’ this new campus.

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