The Google Visitor Experience

The Google Visitor Experience

4 min read#Photoessays#California

Thought it hasn’t been known for architecture outside of midcentury modern homes, the Bay Area is becoming a hotbed for corporate architecture. Meta’s expansive development by Frank Gehry echoes its culture of openness, collaboration, and adaptability. Apple’s Foster+Partners-designed Apple Park is simple and elegant like its consumer products. Nvidia’s Gensler-designed campus looks like a larger-than-life triangle mesh.

Surprisingly, even though Google is a longtime pillar of Silicon Valley like the other firms mentioned earlier, it always occupied buildings constructed by others. The most notable is the Googleplex, which was formerly the headquarters of Silicon Graphics (later SGI).

Recently, Google joined its peers with a brand new campus, Google Bay View and Gradient Canopy. This project is a collaboration between BIG and Heatherwick Studio. The tent-like buildings are clad in complex curved sections layered with scale-like solar cells. These curved sections also collect rainwater, which is reused on site. The gaps between these sections allow natural light in. The largest installation of geothermal piles to date allows for efficient climate control inside.

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What’s inside

My wife and I checked it out earlier this year. We didn’t visit the employee-only sections, sticking to the publicly accessible Google Visitor Experience. Like with the Apple Visitor Center, there is a variety of offerings, but with a style suiting Google’s culture.

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The Huddle is a space for community events and talks.

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The Pop-Up shop features local makers selling their creations. The Cafe @ Mountain View is a cafe with a rotating menu much like what is served to employees.

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The Google Store has a curated selection of Google products and merchandise.

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Lastly, the Plaza is an extensive outdoor space featuring art installations by local artists.

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The furnishings reflect Google’s corporate aesthetic taste. They eschewed the ubiquitous classics. Instead, they chose items from lesser known brands and designers. I especially liked the lighting like the Weight Table Light designed by Sam Gwilt.

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From the distance, Google Bay View is aesthetically on par with the other major new company headquarters. Up close, the execution of details feel very Google-like.

Scale and engineering are the stars of the show. They are two aspects of what make Google products successful. The details, like the relationships between disparate parts and the exposed fasteners give it a raw, industrial feel.

The impressiveness of Apple Park, on the other hand, comes from the simplicity of the overall concept and how precisely it is executed.

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The food at the cafe felt on par with what I’ve had in other cafe’s on campus. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there instead of a proper restaurant. The expansive plaza was one of my favorite features. Few corporate campuses have that much publicly accessible outdoor space.

If you are in the area, the Google Visitor Experience is worth visiting.

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Camera setup

Camera setup

Thanks to Q for reading drafts of this.

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