Posts tagged with "Silicon Valley":

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The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?

The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.

Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.

Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.

In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.

The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.

London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.

In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.

Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.

By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.

The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality. 

Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.

Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.

All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.

The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.

Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.

Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.

After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”

From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.

It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.

Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.

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Adobe unveils a glassy office tower for its San Jose headquarters

New renderings have been released for Adobe’s latest addition to its San Jose, California, headquarters, an 18-story office tower designed by multinational architecture firm Gensler. The tech company filed finalized plans with the City of San Jose last Thursday, according to The Mercury News, and the new building could hold up to 3,000 employees when complete. The building would be an addition to Adobe’s existing complex. It has been dubbed 'North Tower' and will sit on the northern side of the campus. Adobe is considering making the tower a mixed-use building and plans on building out 650,000 square feet of retail and office space in the tower, as well as above- and below-ground parking. The building itself will be linked with the other offices via a sky bridge and will sit to the east of the adjacent State Route 87. As shown in the renderings, Gensler has taken a playful approach to the building’s massing and cut a massive triangular gap in the tower’s upper section, reminiscent of Adobe’s stylized “A” logo. Diagonally-slanted louvers will wrap the building and run parallel to the cutout, and Adobe will use the open space created by the cutout to lay a plaza on top of the retail podium. A series of smaller rooftop gathering spaces are planned for the building’s other setbacks. The sky bridge will feature concrete pavers and wood seating areas alongside plantings of native grasses, evoking a High Line-type feel. According to Adobe, construction is expected to begin sometime in 2019. Adobe is far from the only tech company to pursue a new headquarters this year: Gensler’s NVIDIA building opened, Google and BIG unveiled a new campus in Sunnyvale, Microsoft revealed that it would be upgrading its Redmond, Washington complex, and the search for an Amazon HQ2 host city has kicked into high gear.
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Apple Park and Louvre Abu Dhabi have created their own operating systems inside designer circles

In the early 1980s, a new time travel-themed attraction was unveiled at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Like an oversized golf ball pelted straight from outer space to Orlando, Spaceship Earth is a fantastical fabrication. Its monolithic geodesic dome conceals two structures propped up by six steel legs, each driven some 160 feet into soft Floridian swampland below. Designed with the help of Ray Bradbury, Spaceship Earth continues to shuttle eager space tourists through an accelerated history of the world, where animatronic Neanderthals cozy up with ancient Greek charioteers and American astrophysicists under a swirling net of stars. In fifteen short minutes, the ride’s conveyor belt ascends through an abridged history of humanity that urges, after its namesake Buckminster Fuller, for a team effort to save our planet "Spaceship Earth." It culminates in a future utopia that today’s passengers can customize via interactive screens and troubleshoot the world’s woes together in a group exercise. Fast forwarding through a quarter-century of globalization and hyper-capitalist development, the $1.4 billion Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi and Apple’s $5 billion Silicon Valley campus by Foster + Partners have crafted a freakishly similar world of suspended disbelief and alter-reality. While they substitute the comparatively cheap thrill of Spaceship Earth’s 11,300 alucobond tiles with eight layers of steel and aluminum and some four miles of curved glass respectively, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Apple Park are essentially designer circles. In their use of this sacred geometry, both projects become a sort of cosmic architecture, according to Craig Hodgetts, Principle of Hodgetts + Fung Architecture and Design. “Nouvel’s sky-dome and the Apple headquarters rely on geometrically pure forms as a way to consolidate and insure a singularly unified experience,” suggests Hodgetts. “An absolute form, uncompromised, uninflected, unadorned, and too large to comprehend will lend a God-like authority to nearly any enterprise, and these structures assert the primacy of their makers rather than the profane delights of simple existence.” Each “absolute form” depends on its God-like authority to extricate itself from its problematic social and political contexts–whether that’s occupying 175 acres of a California suburb currently suffering from one of the country’s worst housing shortages while refusing to engage with its urban planning efforts, or lodged inside a petrodollar-fueled arms race for global domination among oil-rich nations in the Gulf via Western cultural capital. Concealed beneath the all-consuming designs of Louvre’s bedazzled ceilings and Apple’s infinite rings of glass are both projects’ hidden, delirious desire to remove all context and weave their own origin stories–whether of mankind or Mackind. Such grandiose narratives necessitate some serious cultural capital. Take, for instance, the UAE’s $900 million “loan” of the Louvre’s brand and expertise for the next 30 years, an agreement signed into place in 2007 which also authorized the borrowing of hundreds of French artworks from the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and Château de Versailles. Shrouded in mystery, this wholesale purchase included the expertise of a French curatorial committee which has reportedly advised the Emiratis to acquire almost 250 works thus far in assembling its own cultural history of the world, a collection that includes the record-breaking $450 million Da Vinci painting, Salvator Mundi, sold to an anonymous bidder at Christie’s last November.   Meanwhile, back in February 2017, Apple rebranded its sober “Campus 2” to “Apple Park"–emphasizing the OLIN-designed gardenscape, home to some 9,000 drought-resistant trees alongside other indigenous and imported flora (including its own apple orchard) that fills over half the site. With its hermetic green haven, Apple’s new campus indulges in a Land Before Time fantasy of Silicon Valley’s pre-tech ecology, intending to mimic California’s natural greenery before it was settled. It is a private garden of paradise viewable by Apple employees from all angles in Godlike omniscience. “It’s not about maximizing the productivity of the office space, it’s about creating a symbolic center for this global company,” said Louise Mozingo, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at U.C. Berkeley. “They are creating an icon.” Even without the figures–the only data most journalists have to work with until Apple lets down its impenetrable forcefield to visitors–it would be hard to make a case for the efficiency or efficacy of Ring’s 2.8-million square footprint. Built to house only 12,000 employees on its 175 acres, with nearly 11,000 commuting from outside Cupertino, the Park is a techno-utopian timewarp of California’s modernist-era abundance. The campus also steers clear of Cupertino’s current public transit and housing shortages (the Bay Area added a reported 640,000 jobs between 2010 and 2015 while 75.8% of houses sold in 2017 for over $800,000). Instead, Apple taps into both collegiate spirit and corporate modernism, fabricating its design from a mix of Stanford’s quadrangles and the factory-like floor plans of the corporate campuses of the 50s and 60s favored by Foster. Apple justifies its inefficient use of 100 acres (offering more parking space than office space) with an origin story that waxes poetic on Steve Jobs’ first summer job at the now-razed Hewlett Packard Campus, which stood on this site in 1976, fresh from a summer picking apples on a commune in Oregon. Apple’s manifest destiny-like design narrative highlights the Park’s out-of-touch attitude towards its own conquest of valuable land in Cupertino, which could otherwise be used for affordable housing. Catering only to its inner circle of Apple acolytes, its “Spaceship” colloquialism feels particularly appropriate. If these buildings are the result of resuscitated megastructure ideologies that superimpose their own fabricated mythology over contemporary geopolitics and ethics, what do their higher lifeforms look like? Childless, apparently, according to Apple Park. Despite a 100,000 square foot allowance for its fitness center, and 2-mile outdoor running track perfectly camouflaged from the roaring I-280 nearby, the workspace of the future miraculously lacks a daycare center for its 12,000 employees. The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ideal visitor doesn’t need superhuman smarts or a perfect body: he just needs to love the aesthetics of luxurious shopping malls. Beneath its latticed dome of 7,800 stars, in rooms of exotic marble and leather floors, visitors filter through seemingly endless and unordered rows of captionless artworks. Together, they form a utopian reimagining of human civilization that “turns a blind eye to a long history of human equality and exploitation,” suggests Javier Pes of artnet. But even without fingerprints to trace, the stated mission and ethos of the world’s “first universal museum,” praised by French and Emirati governments alike, has as many holes as its star-studded ceiling. Intended as an “antidote to the poison of hatred and barbarism” of culture wars in the Middle East, according to Louvre President Jean-Luc Martin, its starry-eyed humanitarianism clashes with the mass human rights violations committed against the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s migrant workforce, according to Al Jazeera, quoting French Director Benedicte Jeannerson of Human Rights Watch. These world-structures manifest through the fantasy of a new world order that’s somehow eclipsed all conditions of crisis, operating on their own cultural capital of Instagrammability, as with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, or exclusivity, as with Apple Park, which still remains a highly coveted fortress-cum-tourist mecca over a year after its official press launch. The closest most of us will get to stepping inside the Jobs Mausoleum is a monthly subscription to new Youtube drone footage. But just as Apple Park’s designer landscaping and sprawling carpark can’t curb worldwide species extinction and rampant property inflation, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s petrodollar-primed, marble-encrusted villages of culture can’t white-out the political turmoil surrounding the Gulf and the systemic abuse of its displaced workers. If today’s conditions of global crisis can be considered a type of manmade gravity, then these structures aspire to grow so large that they might break free from this condition or create their own operating systems altogether. While looking to the stars for inspiration is all but human, we must eventually lower our gaze to the real implications of these projects and bring the God complex framing their hermetic existence back down to Earth.
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Google wins approval in Mountain View for sweeping housing plans

The Mountain View, California, city council unanimously voted on Tuesday to approve a redevelopment plan that would give Google the power to build up to almost 10,000 residential units near its new Charleston East campus, and they won’t be restricted solely to Google employees. The approval paves the way for Google to build alongside its new Charleston East campus, designed by a team of Heatherwick Studios, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture, which expects to complete construction by 2019. Besides bringing 3.6 million square feet of office space and the aforementioned residential buildings to the North Bayshore neighborhood, Google and other outside developers will be allowed to construct a high-density, mixed-use neighborhood in an area stymied by a lack of new housing. Rising above than the low-slung suburban office park surrounding the new site, the new development will feature office towers up to eight stories, and residential buildings up to 15 stories tall. Although the city, Google, and other interested developers still need to put together a master plan detailing the project’s timeline, it’s expected that the project will claim up to 150 acres for residential use. Of the 9,850 units allowed by the new measure, developers are shooting to keep 70 percent of the units as one bedrooms or studios, with 20 percent of the total set aside as affordable housing. Planners have already begun envisioning the new neighborhoods that the ordinance would create, naming them Joaquin, Shorebird and Pear. Overall it’s expected that the redevelopment will bring more office space, retail and entertainment options to a previously underdeveloped area. At the Tuesday meeting, vice mayor Lenny Siegel said the project would help address the Bay Area’s housing crisis. “This is a cutting edge plan that sets a standard,” said Siegel. “Not just for the Bay Area, but for the rest of the country.” The massive project will still need to face further rounds of public approval before being finalized, but previously released renderings by Google provides some indication of how the tech giant will build out their adjacent campus. A distinctive two story, tent-like structure with a solar panel-clad canopy will occupy 595,000 square feet, with the ground floor open to the public. The second floor will hold Google office space, and both areas will be peppered with interior courtyards designed to act as cores for socializing. It's not yet clear how the newly-formed neighborhoods will link with the company's peaked office space. The recent city council approval is only the first step in a long line of public approvals that the development will need to clear before becoming a reality. While no exact estimates of how long the project will take, or how much it could cost, have been revealed yet, Siegel has said that it may take up to a decade to fully realize.
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Microsoft reveals renderings for its new Silicon Valley campus upgrade

Microsoft has gone big and broken ground on its new Silicon Valley headquarters, with a sustainability-minded plan to modernize its Mountain View, California outpost. The 32-acre campus might seem small when compared to the company’s sprawling, 500-acre flagship location in Redmond, Washington, but Microsoft’s pursuit of a net zero non-potable water certification under the Living Building Challenge will make them the first tech company to totally reuse non-potable water. The redevelopment plans come as WRNS Studio replaced SOM early last year as Microsoft’s designers of choice. The redevelopment is leaning hard on a green modernization, with Microsoft pursuing LEED Platinum certification for all of its new buildings, committing to the WELL Building standards for the interiors, and integrating cross-laminated timber (CLT) throughout all of the new buildings to cut material usage. In trying to meet their water-use reduction goals, and acknowledging California’s limited groundwater availability, the campus will feature rainwater catchments and an on-site wastewater treatment plant so that drinkable water can be recycled for other uses. Because the campus is next to Stevens Creek, the tech giant is also introducing a 4-acre, occupiable green roof solely planted with native species. Rooftop solar panels will also help cut the campus’s energy usage, while the buildings will let natural light in through their uniformly large windows. Not to be outdone by the main, Seattle-adjacent campus, the project will also include an underground parking garage topped by a soccer field and a new athletics facility, while returning the former parking lots to nature. Besides modernizing the office space of their 2,000 San Francisco Bay Area-employees, the new campus will feature a renovated dining hall, new theater, conference center, and a “Microsoft Technology Center.” Microsoft has provided a full fly-through video of their plans below. The new Mountain View campus plan increases the existing 515,000-square-foot campus to 643,000 square feet, and comes amidst the recent opening of Apple’s new space-aged campus nearby. Similarly, Microsoft's renovation of its main headquarters in Redmond, announced at the same time as its Silicon Valley campus, feels like a direct response to Amazon’s city-hopping HQ2 plans. Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus is on track to re-open sometime in 2019.
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Seasteaders to bring a libertarian floating community to the South Pacific

Right now, engineers, scientists, and officials from one country in the South Pacific are hashing out a seastead. The movement is an ambitious experiment in aquatic living that’s shaped by libertarian dreams, a pragmatic response to climate change, and a novel architectural experiment.

“Seasteaders want voluntary societies based on choice, not force,” said Joe Quirk, Seasteading Institute communications director and author, in a YouTube video on the subject. The San Francisco-based organization is on the front lines of the seasteading movement, a Libertarian-influenced crusade that borrows from the language of the American frontier to frame its freewheeling settlement at sea. Decentralized dwelling, the thinking goes, permits members to join or leave the autonomous association at will by simply detaching their dwellings and floating off, literally voting with their sea legs to leave. If this sounds far-fetched, well, the first seasteaders may hit the water in just a few years.

The community could be afloat soon—like, 2020 soon. The Floating Islands Project, as it is officially known, will be built with emerging floating-construction technology and is meant to attract investment to French Polynesia. Its sheer novelty has already garnered extensive media coverage. But will it work?

Although seasteaders can theoretically float anywhere, the Institute found a partner in French Polynesia, an island country in the South Pacific. This January, French Polynesia signed a memorandum of understanding with the Seasteading Institute in San Francisco to build a floating island prototype. The project, off the coast of Tahiti, has to demonstrate it won’t adversely impact the environment, and show what it will contribute to the island’s economy, and then the nation will establish an offshore economic zone for the seasteaders.

Although seasteading’s libertarian ideals perhaps make French Polynesia—well, any nation—an unlikely partner, the government views seasteading technology as a potential Hail Mary in the anthropocene. Many of the country’s thousands of islands are flat and narrow, a topographic combination that is particularly susceptible to climate change. Floating islands could be a vital survival strategy if (but really, when) the seas rise. In turn, the area’s shallow water and ocean conditions that don’t include high waves make the current technology—which has been pioneered on flat water—more adaptable to ocean conditions.

By the end of this year, the Institute, which was founded in 2008 by libertarian activist Patri Friedman, is working with French Polynesian officials to pass a seazone act. If the rules pass, the group will head to Tahiti to develop a pilot program. So who are the architects of the seastead?

This is certainly not the first architecture at sea, nor the first time the island-platform technology’s been used. In 2011, a series of floating islands opened in the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, while French architect Jacques Rougerie has designed a floating, partially submerged city shaped like a manta ray. As far back as 700 AD, people have been living for long periods of time on the ocean.

For the seasteaders, Dutch firm DeltaSync has built a prototype on a lake in Rotterdam. The Floating Pavilion Research suggests that buildings up to 164 feet (15 stories) tall can be built on the seas and are able to withstand storms and choppy waters. Four years ago, DeltaSync debuted a preliminary plan which estimated that a series of platforms for 20 to 30 people would cost around $15 million. With one-fifth of the space reserved for open greenery, the firm estimates living space would cost about $500 per square foot, which is just over half as much as the average price per square foot in New York City (and less than a third of the price of Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side). (Neither the Seasteading Institute nor marine engineering firm Blue 21, an offshoot of DeltaSync that’s working on the Tahiti project, could be reached for comment on these latest plans.)

It’s no surprise that the project has—or had—high-profile fans in Silicon Valley. Gawker shutter-downer and Trump supporter Peter Thiel funneled a cool 1.7 million dollars into the initiative, but has since dismissed the concept as “not quite feasible.”

But despite its ostensible freedom at sea, the project can’t escape from social concerns. By comparing themselves to American frontiersmen, seasteaders (a term derived from “homesteaders”) invoke the same tabula rasa colonialism that Europeans used to justify the wholesale genocide of indigenous people in the Americas and elsewhere. Is libertarianism, in this case, an aegis for clueless Silicon Valley tech-bro optimism?

Quirk and others at the Institute have a new company, Blue Frontiers, whose mission is to develop and build the floating seabeds, so it’s only a matter of time before these questions are answered. 

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VR was essential to Gensler’s design of NVIDIA's new headquarters

Hao Ko, principal and design director at Gensler, will be delivering the keynote presentation at the 2017 Tech+ Expo (May 23, New York City). Like a test rendering of a 3-D model, Gensler’s new headquarters for microchip maker NVIDIA in Santa Clara, California comes haltingly into view across the landscape, a glitchy image slowly gaining resolution. The 550,000-square-foot structure has been in the works since before the Great Recession and after nearly a decade in development, work is quickly progressing on final construction. The structure is on track to open for business in September of 2017—construction photos provided to The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) by Hao Ko, principal and design director at Gensler, indicate that work on the building envelope is almost complete, with the installation of final interior finishes and the landscape underway. Devcon Construction is building the project and Louie International is acting as the structural design engineer. Along the exterior, practically every edge of the wide, triangular structure is canted subtly. A roof profile that appears curved is actually made up of broad, segmented lines. Along two sides, the building bulges at the middle, creating fat, cyclopean bay windows. From above, the building is revealed across the landscape as a microchip-inspired paper airplane—a thin roof structure pierced with triangular skylights heaving over the earth. The building is actually capped by a steel truss roof supported by steel beam walls and columns. The deeply-overhanging and undulating roof creates a cavernous interior volume below. Whenever the roof’s folded planes meet at a peak or a valley, they turn downward as large steel section columns that resolve themselves dutifully and unceremoniously by plunging straight into the concrete slab. [interstitia] The construction images showcase a cavernous, two-level interior volume intersected by a series of opaque, faceted cores that interlock with one another and contain communal functions and meeting rooms. The peripheries of each floor plate are lined with work areas. Here, the formal rows of desks and more open-ended breakout spaces will exist in a broad, sky-lit space, framed by triangular roofing members above. The project is notable for the collaborative effort between client and architect that allowed the design team to embed virtual reality-based (VR) visualization into the design process. NVIDIA worked to develop new uses for the graphics chip manufacturer’s Iray rendering engine: the project's iterative daylight simulations involved modeling up to 5,000 light sources per image. Using the technology and cluster computing to pool GPU-power, designers were able to generate renderings in as little as ten minutes’ time, converting the technology into a rapidly-deployable design tool. The technology was also designed to include physically scanned materials in such a way as to capture light intensity and character—rather than to generate only various intensities of color, as is more common in rendering applications. The resulting “simulations” guided the design of the workspaces, where NVIDIA wanted to maximize quality of light. The scheme, as a result, ended up with fewer skylights than originally intended. Simulations showed that not as many skylights were needed to achieve the correct lighting effect designers were looking for. Ko explained over telephone that virtual reality workflow integration allows for a project to take on more life, saying “previously we only had artists’ renditions of what a space could feel like.” Ko added that with VR, the architects at Gensler wanted to figure out how could get “more reality” into the design experience. Scott DeWoody, Gensler’s creative media manager, said that the use of virtual reality was integral to the NVIDIA project and that the firm had “found a use for it at every spot in the design process.” VR is something that is not only easy to adopt into the traditional office workflow, DeWoody explained, but once rendering times are reduced, the tool can result in better overall design quality, as designers “render everything around them, instead of just (rendering) an open scene.” Ko agreed that the advanced simulation techniques add more to the design process than traditional renders, saying, “I’m old school—I came in the profession back in the day when we were building big physical models, to understand size, scale, and experience. Prior to having VR, it was always a challenge to reconcile how you do that.” Technology is driving rapid changes in architecture and construction industries and the building industry, in turn, is a driver of the U.S. economy. Tech+ Expo brings together, for the first time in NYC, industry and technology leaders that are shaping the future of the built environment.
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BIG and Heatherwick Studios unveil new Google campus renderings

Heatherwick Studios, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture have revealed new renderings and designs for the firms’ Google Charleston East campus in Mountain View, California. The renderings, shared via public documents made available by the municipality in advance of a public meeting scheduled for March 7th to discuss the plans and first reported by 9to5Google, showcase a distinctive, tent-shaped structure located on a large, landscaped site.   The canopy is square-shaped in plan and rises gently out of the tree-lined site, rising to a peak of 111 feet above grade. The structure measures 576 feet on each side and is configured as a solar panel-clad canopy hung from a gridded field of steel support columns. The structure’s cascading roof structure is designed to be supported by structurally glazed clerestory walls that have been treated to minimize their impact on local bird populations and are designed to bring diffuse light into the office areas. The 595,000-square-foot, two-story structure is bisected by an interior 15,300-square-foot pedestrian path that turns into a small public square at the center of the building. That path is lined on one end with retail. Retail functions appear again surrounding the central square, which totals 10,000 square feet in all. These areas connect to an expansive, landscaped site that is mostly accessible to the general public and connects to the city’s expansive network of greenways and pedestrian paths known as the Green Loop. According to other documents shared by the municipality, the project will require the removal of 196 heritage trees from the site. As part of a California Environmental Quality Act compliance, those trees are being replaced with 392 new specimens. The publically-accessible ground floor of the structure and the site will be open to the public during daylight hours. The non-public areas along the ground floor will be laboratory spaces, quasi-public assembly areas, and shared employee leisure areas. The second floor of the structure will contain Google’s offices. The floorplates of both levels are punctured throughout with interior courtyards that will bring light into the work areas and also act as circulation cores. The project has yet to be approved by Mountain View officials. Once approved, the designers expect the project to be completed in roughly 30 months.
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Facebook to invest $20 million in affordable housing

After receiving criticism for displacing low-income residents in Silicon Valley, tech giant Facebook will invest $20 million in below-market-rate projects in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, California. Housing activists have long blamed Facebook for contributing to extreme income inequality in the area. This is not only because the corporation has displaced residents by expanding its headquarters campus, but also because of a seemingly well-meaning policy that offered bonuses to employees who lived near campus in Menlo Park rather than in San Francisco proper. Critics say this policy accelerated gentrification of the area and caused low-income tenants to be evicted in favor of the higher-earning Facebook employees. Of course, Facebook alone cannot be blamed for the Bay Area’s gentrification—Google, Apple, and hundreds of other heavy hitting technology firms and start-ups also call the area home. Plus, according to nonprofit group Public Advocates, the housing shortage in Silicon Valley has reportedly reached crisis levels, with the region building only 26 percent of the housing needed for lower-earning people. With Facebook’s new campus expansion, which entails adding 1.1 million new square feet to its current complex and plans to hire 6,5000 new employees over the next few years, community groups were concerned. In response, Facebook partnered with local activists and community groups, such as Youth United for Community Action, Faith in Action Bay Area, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, and Comité de Vecinos del Lado Oeste – East Palo Alto, as well as the local governments of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to address the impact it will have on the Bay Area. Facebook is legally required to contribute $6.3 million to affordable housing thanks to development laws but does seem to be genuinely invested in the community. In addition to the $6.3 million required, another $12.2 million has been pledged to below-market-rate housing, $500,000 will go toward helping those displaced with legal and rental assistance, and $625,000 will go to job training in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “Since shortly after Facebook was created, we’ve been part of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. The region—this community—is our home,” said vice president of public policy and communications Elliot Schrage in a statement. “We want the region to remain strong and vibrant and continue a long tradition of helping to build technologies that transform the future and improve the lives of people around the world, and also in our extended neighborhood. We all need to work together to create new opportunities for housing, transportation and employment across the region. We’re committed to join with the community to help.”
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This Silicon Valley startup is building a brand-new city from the ground up

Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley–based business accelerator and investment firm that backed Airbnb and Dropbox, has turned its attention towards an ambitious project that most of us only dream about during a SimCity gaming binge. Y Combinator's nonprofit division, YC Research, is inviting collaborators to research ways to build a more affordable, legible city. The project intends to find ways to reduce a household's housing expenses by 90 percent and write a full book of city code that's less than 100 pages long. The ultimate plan, Y Combinator partner Adora Cheung and president Sam Altman said, is to produce a real city to demonstrate these principles in practice. The project will be a stage for testing ideas in urban policy and for expanding the scope of Y Combinator. Although the company hasn't chosen a location yet, the firm will solicit proposals for streamlined construction, an advanced power, driverless cars (this is Silicon Valley, of course), and smarter zoning and property law. Altman states that YC Research will ultimately have an annual budget of over $100 million. "The central theme is to work on things that we need for the successful evolution of humanity," he told Bloomberg Technology. Why would a firm that funded Airbnb, the bête noire of housing activists, be interested in affordability? Altman strenuously denies that Y Combinator's new project is meant to soften the image of the tech industry, whose thousands of highly-paid Silicon Valley workers, many critics contend, are driving up the cost of housing in the Bay Area. He maintains that Y Combinator is applying its "innovation model" to a pressing urban issue. Interested? Initial applications are due July 30.
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WRNS Studio to expand Microsoft headquarters in Mountain View with green roof, creekside habitat

Last week Microsoft submitted plans to the city of Mountain View to expand its Silicon Valley headquarters. As with Apple's upcoming building and Google's proposed campus, this one is also pastoral and eco-minded. A rendering by shows the low-rise office buildings enmeshed in a riparian landscape and topped by an expanse of verdant meadow. According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, WRNS Studio replaced SOM on the job. This new scheme not only updates the 515,000-square-foot campus, but also adds 128,000 square feet of workspace and 164,000 square feet of green roof. Changing the paradigm for parking, the design will restore more than 6 acres of asphalt surface parking into a “creekside environment.” But don’t expect a decreased demand for parking spaces, there’s talk of a new garage topped by a soccer field. "They’ve talked to us from square one about taking all the parking adjacent to Stevens Creek and turning that to habitat," said Mountain View Community development director Randy Tsuda told SVBJ. The tech behemoth also intends to buy the property, which it now leases. In an email to employees executive vice president Qi Lu wrote, “Today, I am excited to announce our plan to further invest in the success of the Silicon Valley region. Microsoft is acquiring the Mountain View Silicon Valley Campus to build a state-of-the-art facility and create an exceptional place to work... Sustainability, collaboration, and health & wellness are at the center of the design, incorporating features such as team courtyards, easy access to the outdoors, an onsite gym, and LEED Platinum certification.” WRNS’s plan calls for demolishing and rebuilding two existing buildings and infilling much of the campus with courtyards and outdoor spaces, while new programs along Macon Street and La Avenida Streets will directly engage with the community. Construction is expected to start in early 2017.
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Apple to lease HOK's Curvy Central & Wolfe Campus in Sunnyvale, California

News broke last week that Apple plans to move into another spaceship of a building, the Central & Wolfe Campus in Sunnyvale, California designed by HOK. The Silicon Valley Business Journal reported that the company leased the 777,000-square-foot building just a few miles from its Norman Foster–designed, doughnut-shaped HQ and praised the curvilinear design for its non-box-like silhouette. The HOK and Landbank project, which has been on AN’s radar since 2014, uses its curves to give employees (Apple will house up to 4,000 here) better visual and physical access to the outdoors. The 18-acre site includes 9 acres of ground-level open space with 2 miles of outdoor trails and 90,000-square-foot rooftop garden. There are no plans as yet for a viewing platform for the curious public. “It was critical that every major design element that went into the campus had to raise the user experience bar. In this case, the ‘users’ include companies, their employees, surrounding communities, and Mother Nature,” Scott Jacobs, CEO of Landbank, told AN Back in May 2014. In the same piece, Paul Woodford, HOK's senior VP and director of design, noted that the firm had to challenge preconceptions about what is “leasable, efficient, and excitable.” The bet paid off. The Apple lease does raise the question of whether the HOK design will remain part of the deal. Real estate reporter for the Journal wrote: “One caveat: It’s unclear whether the project will be built according to that design, from architecture firm HOK, or if Apple and Landbank will want to modify it in some way. At this time there’s no indication it will change substantially, and indeed Landbank has made the signature look a key selling point, with a website that highlights the out-of-the-box design.”