Imagine enormous dome tents with swooping roof swags, skinned in dragon scales. That’s the look of two office buildings (plus a smaller events structure) by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Heatherwick Studio (HS) for Google’s new Bay View campus. Set in Mountain View, California, and eight years in the making, the compound will house Google Ads, with 4,000 employees at this location. As the Silicon Valley giant’s first purpose-built facility, Bay View provided an opportunity to “rethink the very idea of what office buildings could be,” recalls Michelle Kaufmann, Google’s director of real estate and workplace services, research, and development. “We [realized] we have no idea how we’ll be working in 20 years, 10, or even five.” So, seeking an extremely flexible design that could evolve over time, the company assembled a collaborative team—architects, engineers, builders, and others—willing, as she put it, “to try even things that sounded crazy.”
Equally unconventional, BIG and HS were paired by Google in a fifty-fifty design collaboration after it hired them to compete against one another in an initial exercise. The immersive R+D process that ensued, engaging thinkers from inside and outside Google, explored multiple strategies with full-scale mock-ups. “It wasn’t checkbook carte blanche,” says HS design director Thomas Heatherwick, “but, with no fixed assumptions, we were given time and space to push ideas to their absolute limit.”
An aerial view of the new Google complex reveals the two tentlike office buildings and smaller events venue amid its landscaped grounds. Photo © Iwan Baan, click to enlarge.
Prioritizing worker experience, the building designs developed from the inside out. Yet metaphors of an overarching gathering place—“the great Bedouin tent,” as Heatherwick calls it—read through to the exteriors, where even the canted peripheral supports and tie-downs recall tensile fabric structures. Here, however, the materials are primarily steel and glass. And the buildings’ unorthodox appearance is as much about sustainability ambitions as a workplace re-envisioned. For starters, the “dragon scales”—all 50,000 of them—are PV panels, doubling as roof shingles.
Applying renewable approaches across the entire 42-acre site, Google engaged Olin to design a landscape that restored native meadow and wetland biomes. Bordering San Francisco Bay—1.6 miles from the main Googleplex—the land was leased long-term from NASA, which maintains its Ames Research Center nearby.
Key inspiration came from 1930s and ’40s airship hangars on neighboring Moffett Federal Airfield—as well as Google’s experience converting such facilities as Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose Hangar in Los Angeles. “As we discovered, buildings that remain vibrant over long lifespans, through successive adaptations,” says David Radcliffe, Google vice president of real estate and workplace services, “share common traits, which we wanted to replicate: high ceilings, double-height space, long-span structural bays, and daylight throughout.” Another advantage of the hangar model: low-slung structures typically demand less carbon and energy than towering ones. Bay View’s duo of office buildings—400,000 and 600,000 square feet, respectively—rise only two stories (albeit lofty ones, with double-height areas peaking at 130 feet).
Between the two “mega-tents,” a plaza accessible only to Googlers, allows work and leisure to spill outdoors. But the surrounding 17.3 acres are open to the public, with views of water-filtering plantings and retention ponds. Google has committed to 24/7 carbon-free energy operations worldwide by 2030 and, across Bay View’s all-electric campus, net-positive H2O performance, replenishing 120 percent of the water it consumes in this drought-prone region. The campus—on track for a LEED-NC v4 Platinum and an International Living Future Institute (ILFI) Living Building Challenge (LBC) Water Petal certification—treats and recycles all its gray and black water on-site, entirely meeting its nonpotable needs. Meanwhile, the canopies capture stormwater.
A plaza allows outdoor work and downtime (1). Ample glazing connects employees with nature (2). Photos © Iwan Baan (1), Bruce Damonte (2)
Bay View also features North America’s largest geothermal pile field, integrated into more than 2,200 of its foundations’ concrete structural columns. The system engages deep-ground thermal exchange to cool the interiors, while storing summer heat for winter use—measures expected to reduce carbon emissions by about 50 percent and save approximately 5 million gallons of water annually, as compared with conventional cooling systems.
The roofs are clad with customized off-theshelf photovoltaic panels, each nearly 3 feet square, resembling dragon scales. Photo © Iwan Baan
Forming rainscreens over standing-seam roofs, the PV-shingles have a total 4-megawatt capacity (meeting roughly 40 percent of the energy needs), supplemented by nearby windfarms. Each “dragon scale”—a customized version of off-the-shelf solar shingles—is nearly 3 feet square, rimless, and “walkable” for maintenance and repairs. The textured, prismatic-glass surfaces minimize glare toward Moffett’s still-active airfield, and the gray back color (though lower-performing than black) contributes to a silvery sheen that “shade-shifts” in daylight. Remarkably, these PVs—capturing photons from many directions—are all the same panel type, all flat, yet they sheathe the undulant canopies like a second skin. “In contrast to add-ons that you hide,” says BIG founding partner Bjarke Ingels, “these photovoltaics become a beautiful architectural material that also performs technically.”
Beyond stormwater, photon capture, and shading (by virtue of their overhangs), the canopy contours are inseparable from essential structural and daylighting solutions. A grid of columns, approximately 125 feet apart—each a giant “tent pole” rising to a canopy peak—punctuates the interior. Every column supports a pinwheel configuration of four converging roof sections, their hammock-like forms resulting from the structural and material efficiency of catenary curves. For the dome’s critical inner skeleton, seismic code precluded a super-lightweight tensile-cable web, requiring instead capacity to withstand both compression and tension. The solution was a heavier (though still visually light) steel-tube network, or “tubenet.” Above it, perforated-metal decking adds strength and texture while housing acoustic batting, enhancing the curves’ sound-diffusing properties. Like these structurally elegant underpinnings, semi-industrial materials appear, with minimal finishes, throughout the building.
At varying angles and orientations, bowed clerestory windows—framed by modified Vierendeel (or “smile”) trusses—puncture the vast canopies. It’s as if layers of swagged fabric had been pulled apart to let daylight in, illuminating the roof’s billowing underside. Automated shades, with programmable controls and daylight sensors, prevent glare. With sunlight filtering into the soaring roof peaks, Google has nicknamed the place a “cathedral of work.” And while the building exteriors may appear somewhat odd—with their leaning supports, seemingly heaped-and-tumbling massing, and quasi-drooping festoons—here, the internal logic, integrated complexities, and feats of structural geometry come in focus.
The daylighting scheme correlates closely with the interior layout. In both buildings, the second floor provides for focused solo work as well as team collaboration, while the entry level is a bustling “marketplace,” with eating venues, fitness areas, lounges, and other amenities. Under the great unifying “umbrella,” the upper level embraces individual, group, and “neighborhood” scales through a “topography” of ramp-connected mini-floorplates’ gradually stepping up toward the center. Around each column, these platforms are pulled back, creating double-height space—an indoor “courtyard”—with overlooks, daylight from above, and a stairway down to the entry level.
Daylit by clerestories, the upper level features flexible team “neighborhoods” (3) and open stairways (4) that lead to ground-floor amenity and workspaces (5 & 6). Photos © Iwan Baan (3, 4, 5); Bruce Damonte (6)
With whimsical local art—including a colorful camel and a sculptural “giant plankton”—each courtyard has its own personality and wayfinding cues. Playful materials and textures permeate both buildings, prioritizing variety over standardization. STUDIOS collaborated on the interior fit-out, and the abundant workspace options range in character, size, transparency, openness, and enclosure. “The last thing any of us wanted to create was a polished mausoleum, a corporate setting where no one dares do anything,” says Ingels. Evoking Google’s founding start-up spirit, most furnishings and partitions are mobile or reconfigurable. “It’s like a theater,” says Radcliffe, “with movable stages and props.” (And, for future uses, the entire upper story is removable without undermining the shell’s integrity.)
Setting high standards for healthy materials and indoor air quality, LBC’s Red List guided the use of nontoxic materials, and the ventilation system circulates 100 percent fresh air through natural displacement. This quiet, low-energy method relies on the high interior volumes to draw airflow up through a stack effect, exhausting it through roof vents. (Floor-embedded diffusers allow for personalized adjustments.)
But creative workplaces in vast, semi-industrial settings—with open plans and mobile furnishings—are not new. What might set these interiors apart are the mini-floorplates, expressive structural feats, and the seemingly effortless ways the many S/M/L options weave together.
So, will all this improve worker experience and performance? And will Bay View, as Google hopes, become a high-profile test case, inspiring unprecedented sustainability elsewhere?
Reflections of Bay View on the water-filtering retention pond. Photo © Iwan Baan, click to enlarge.
The leadership says, even pre-Covid, the company anticipated increased remote work, and the new buildings have already demonstrated resilience. But it’s too early to know if Google got it right.
The project—through pushing the limits of scale and technologies—may inspire other sustainable solutions and potentially lead to the wider availability and affordability of such components as PV-shingles. Some of Google’s other renewable measures already translate to modest scales and budgets, including its sorting and recycling to divert about 90 percent of its construction waste from landfill. Yet even seemingly sustainable solutions can have downsides: producing solar panels typically demands significant embodied carbon, which performance can offset—but will this iteration of a still-evolving technology become outdated, prompting replacement?
However these scenarios eventually play out, the company is going great guns with projects on multiple fronts, including two other BIG-HS collaborations: at Kings Cross, London, now under construction; and Charleston East, a Mountain View dome similar to Bay View’s, due in early 2023.
Google’s mantra has always been: If we make spaces where workers are healthy and happy, the business will thrive. Naturally, the company plans to track Bay View’s success through user feedback and—Google being Google—by collecting and analyzing data for years to come.
Click drawing to enlarge
BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group; Heatherwick Studio
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Partner-in-charge: Bjarke Ingels, Beat Schenk, Daniel Sundlin, Leon Rost, Thomas Christoffersen
Project Leaders: Blake Smith, Ryan Harvey, David Iseri, Florencia Kratsman
Project Managers: Linus Saavedra, Ziad Shehab
Team: Agla Egilsdottir, Alessandra Peracin, Ali Chen, Andriani Atmadja, Alvaro Velosa, Armen Menendian, Benjamin Caldwell, Benson Chien, Bernard Peng, Brian Zhang, Camilo Aspeny, Cheyne Owens, Christopher Wilson, Claire Thomas, Cristian Lera, Cristina Medina-Gonzalez, Danielle Kemble, David Spittler, Deborah Campbell, Derek Wong, Diandian Li, Dylan Hames, Erik Kreider, Eva Maria Mikkelsen, Guillaume Evain, Hacken Li, Helen Chen, Isabella Marcotulli, Isela Liu, Jason Wu, Jennifer Dudgeon, Jennifer Kimura, Jennifer Wood, Jeremy Siegel, Jia Chengzhen, Ji-Young Yoon, Jian Yong Khoo, John Hilmes, Jonathan Fournier, Joshua Plourde, Julien Beauchamp-Roy, Kalina Pilat, Kiley Feickert, Kurt Nieminen, Lina Bondarenko, Mads Kjaer, Manon Otto, Marcus Kujala, Maria Acosta, Meghan Bean, Michelle Stromsta, Nandi Lu, Nicole Passarella, Olga Khuraskina, Oliver Colman, Otilia Pupezeanu, Patrick Hyland, Peter Kwak, Ramona Montecillo, Rita Sio, Sebastian Claussnitzer, Sebastian Grogaard, Seo Young Shin, Shu Zhao, Siva Sepehry Nejad, Terrence Chew, Thomas McMurtrie, Tiago Sa, Timothy Cheng, Tingting Lyu, Valentino Vitacca, Vincenzo Polsinelli, Walid Bhatt, Yesul Cho, Yina Moore
Design Director: Thomas Heatherwick
Group Leader: Eliot Postma
Project Leaders: Sarah Gill and Christopher McAnneny
Deputy Project Leader: Kyriakos Chatziparaskevas
Technical Design Leader: Stuart Macalister
Team: Sam Aitkenhead, Nick Arthurell, Angela Bailen Lopez, Erich Bruer, Megan Burke, Mark Burrows Michael Chomette, German De La Torre, Ben Dudek, Nilufer Kocabas, Andre Kong, Steven Howson, Matthijs La Roi, Francis Lam, Adrienne Lau, Barbara Lavickova, Michael Lewis, Freddie Lomas, Gabriel Piovanetti, Tom McKeogh, Hannah Parker, Luke Plumbley, Jeff Powers, Matt Pratt, Arturo Revilla, Miguel Rus, Ville Saarikoski, Ricardo Sosa Mejia, Ling Li Tseng, Chris Stone, Skye Yuxi Sun, Cassandra Tsolakis, Antione Van Erp, Priscilla Wong.
Architect of record:
Adamson Associates International
Interior Architect of Record:
Partners-in-charge: David Sabalvaro, Thomas Yee
Project Architect / Design Lead: Kate Greenberg
Project Managers: Billy Schreiber, Ryan Lamb, Sean Winchester
Team: Alex DeCicco, Benjamin Louie, Cara Ellis, Caroline Young, Chris Werner, Colleen Beckman, Heidi Metcalf, Jamie Frank, Jay Austin, Jen Tai, Johnson Tang, Kaileen Yen, Lauren Patrick, Mette Shenker, Miko Mendoza, Nita Hines, Stephanie Hallam
Thornton Tomasetti (Structural Engineers)
Integral Group (Mechanical, Plumbing & Fire Protection Engineer)
ARUP (Acoustic Consultant & Facade Engineers)
BKF (Civil Engineer)
Sherwood (Water Engineer)
Kleinfelder (Geotechnical Engineer)
Sares Regis (Development Group)
STUDIOS (Interior Architect)
Populous (Events Consultant)
Olin (Landscape Architect)
Holmes (Fire & Life Safety)
Loisos + Ubbelohde (Daylighting Consultant)
FMS (Lighting Consultant)
C.S. Caulkins Co (Access & Maintenance)
Applied Wayfinding (Signage & Wayfinding)
Metal/glass curtain wall: Custom curtainwall system by Benson.
Precast concrete: GFRC: Clark-Pacific
Wood: ReSawn Timber Co.
Curtain wall: Benson
Stainless Steel Bullnose: Zahner
Built-up roofing: Epic Acoustic Metal Deck
Tile/shingles: Sunstyle PVs
Exit devices: Von Durpin
Hinges: Hager Companies, Marray
Security devices: BEA
Other special hardware: Assa Abloy
Alusion Aluminum Foam, Rockfon, USG, Armstrong, 9Wood, BŌK Modern, Gordon Inc - ALPRO®
Suspension grid: USG, Armstrong
Demountable partitions: AraucoPly
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Solid timber millwork made with Resawn Timber Charred Wood Tycoon, Windfall Lumber, Delta Millworks, American Walnut, Anthology Woods,
Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore, PPG, Penofin, Surecrete
Wall coverings: Rebel Walls, Marlite
Curtains and Drapes: Maharam, Kvadrat, Carnegie, Knoll, Hewi, Rose Brand
Paneling: Columbia Forest Products, Reclaimed Redwood from Hangar One, reSAWN TIMBER co., CW Keller Custom GFRC, Chemetal Aluminum Panels, DEK-ING Corrugated Metal, Forms+Surfaces, Mafi, Claridge, Wall Controls, Muratto
Acoustic Paneling: Tectum Acoustic Panels, Autex, Lamvin, Phonstop, Devorm, Owens Corning, Pinta Acoustics, Sonex, SoundStop
Laminate: Chemetal, Panolam, Nevamar
Solid surfacing: Caesarstone, Neolith, Eurostone, Hanstone, Silestone, DuPont, Krion
Special surfacing: Parex USA
Floor and wall tile: Tabarka Studio, Heath Ceramics, Fireclay, Vives Ceramica, Daltile, jausás & co, Crossville, 41ZERO42, Marble Systems, Artistic Tile, Spec Ceramics, Stone Source
Resilient flooring: Forbo, Plae, Tarkett, Sherwin Williams
Carpet: Interface, J+J Flooring, Patcraft, Atlas Carpet Mills
Wood Flooring: TerraMai, Wickam Hardwood Flooring
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Lego Wall, Scandia Moss, Valley Rope & Supply
Upholstery: Sina Pearson, Luum, Anzea Textiles, Arc-com, Luna, Knoll, Momentum Textiles, Brentano
Interior ambient lighting: Visa custom globe pendants of varying diameter, Artemide Alphabet of Lights custom fixtures
Downlights: Barbican custom linear light, Selux Linear Pendants
Photovoltaic system: Sunstyle