Sweet Valley heights

by Toby Manhire / 15 December, 2013
Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon are erecting Silicon Valley monuments to digital domination.
Amazon's envisioned new headquarters.

The giants of the virtual world are doing some extraordinary things with bricks and mortar, plastic and glass.

Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon are all building “bombastic new headquarters to immortalise their grandiose ambitions”, writes Thomas Schulz from San Francisco for the German weekly Der Spiegel.

The new constructions are in many ways reflecting what’s for some time been going on inside the Silicon Valley doyens’ buildings – “the best places to work in America have become amusement parks”, notes a feature for Italy’s La Stampa (via Worldcrunch) exploring the manifold luxuries on offer to employees.

Apple’s giant new donut-shaped base has been designed by Norman Foster to look “a little like a spaceship”. Others say it is “reminiscent of the Pentagon: an impenetrable, protected world”.

Facebook poker-in-chief Mark Zuckerberg has commissioned Frank Gehry to create the world’s biggest open-plan office, with space for 3,400 Facebook employees on a single floor. The exterior will be less Manhattan, more Hobbiton, “covered with trees and meadows, allowing it to merge with the landscape”.

Amazon is meanwhile building in Seattle “the world's first biosphere headquarters: three domes made of glass and steel, each with an artificial ecosystem, including its own microclimate and corresponding botanical zone”.

And Google is developing its “next-generation ‘Googleplex’ ... nine buildings linked by bridges, a number of the roofs with park landscapes, the entire complex extending over numerous acres of restored wetlands”.

All four evince a dual attention to technology and ecology, and a preference for width over height.

The latter is chiefly about creating the shared work space, in the hope that “people constantly meet and spontaneous conversations occur” – paradoxically, a real-life engagement made rarer by many of these companies technological innovations.

They also mirror that online world, however, by removing walls, and therefore privacy: “anyone who wants to remain unobserved has to make a special effort”.

More than anything, however, these buildings are “monuments”, writes Schultz, “architectural techno-visions that reflect the now inexorable digital domination. They are an expression of the worldwide economic and cultural supremacy that Silicon Valley and its leaders overtly claim for themselves.”

Remarkable edifices, without doubt. And emerging as many, the New York Times included, note that it’s all feeling a bit 1999, a bit, you know, bubbly.

See also: Reasons to hate Silicon Valley

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