Google Unveils BIG + Heatherwick Studios Collaboration for New Campus Master Plan

Render of the proposed Google campus plan by BIG and Heatherwick Studios. Credit: Google

Render of the proposed Google campus plan by BIG and Heatherwick Studios. Credit: Google

“Silicon Valley has been the cradle of a series of innovations that, over the last decades, have propelled technology and [the] world economy, but all of the resources, all of the intelligence, has been invested into the immaterial, the digital realm, the internet,” asserts Bjarke Ingels ofBIG at the beginning of a new video released today by Google (posted at the end of this article). David Radcliffe, the Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Services at Google, continues: “Tech really hasn’t adopted a particular language for buildings.” Google hopes to change that, unveiling an ambitious new master plan for their Mountain View campus designed collaboratively by Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studio.

Radcliffe explains that Google scoured the world for the architecture practices they found most innovative. “The BIG Studios – they’re ambitious, they do a lot of very community-focused projects and that was very compelling to us,” while Thomas Heatherwick “has this attention to human scale and beauty that I haven’t seen in anyone before.” The first collaborative effort by the two well-respected practices, the new Google campus plan will replace the existing set of nondescript office buildings that span four sites. “You bring those two together.. and you just have this team that does pretty amazing stuff,” exclaims Radcliffe.

Indeed: the video reveals ambitious, innovative renders. Eschewing immoveable concrete edifices, the campus would consist of a series of light-weight structures that can be moved around to accommodate new projects and product development as they unfold. Covered in transparent canopies, the structures will be climate-controlled but allow in natural light. Interwoven by a series of bike paths, landscaping, and cafes, the project aims “to blur the distinction between our buildings and nature.” With a heavy rhetorical emphasis on the natural beauty of Silicon Valley, the release explicates their aim to be both energy-efficient as well as to “bring new life to the unique local environment, from enhancing burrowing owl habitats to widening creek beds.”

Coming on the heels of ongoing projects at competing tech firms, in particular the Norman Foster’s donut-shaped Apple campus and Frank Gehry’s surprisingly verdant plans for Facebook, the BIG-Heatherwick designs offer a new vision for the future of Silicon Valley. At stake – if you believe the hyped-up rhetoric of the Google video (and I’m not sure I do) – is nothing less than the defining of the architectural typology of the Internet Age.*