Social Conditioning and the Corporate Campus

IMG_4267-e1407793829832.jpg

Disconnected corporate campuses segregate workers from the community, architects said. The new Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View combines retail, housing with offices nearby, providing community and worker connections. Photo by Sharon Simonson

By Sharon Simonson

For the urbanist, the Apple Inc. campus being built in Silicon Valley is a tragedy: a 176-acre tear in the community fabric delineated with security fencing and destined to last.

For the architectural historian, it is that plus a reminder: The stark separations in land use that characterize most of modern America have had — and have — purposes of people separation too.

“(Apple, Google and Facebook) have created these closed enclaves where you have only badged access. It’s not exclusive in race or age or economics, or by intent to have a homogenous population, but it does create these prestigious enclaves where they control the access.” Bryant Rice, business and workplace-design consultant 

Despite its futuristic design and association with one of the world’s most respected architects and innovative companies, the new Apple Inc. headquarters campus is a “classic 1950s corporate estate,” said Louise Mozingo, the newly appointed chair of the Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Department at University of California, Berkeley. “It has two big blocks of parking nestled away, and a landmark building intended to identify the company globally.”

It also is to have seven-foot fencing along its entire perimeter, including two busy streets, North Wolfe and East Homestead roads. Approximately 7,000 trees will be retained or planted, mostly on the site’s outer edge. A 100,000-square-foot fitness center and 60,000 square foot restaurant plus ample walking and running trails should keep employees on site many hours a day. Apple has promised “$100,000 worth of public artwork,” according to the $3 billion project’s environmental impact report. The city had to negotiate with Apple to create an area for the public to view the campus, albeit at a distance, or it would have been entirely concealed, a city spokesman said.

The corporate headquarters emerged as a distinct American architecture after World War II when companies fled inner cities in an echo of the “white flight” for the residential suburbs at the same time, Mozingo said. Like today’s corporations, their precursors were vying for scientists and engineers and seeking a competitive edge with a particular talent pool. Then, companies were thinking about race and ethnicity, though “they couched it in careful terms,” she said. Today, they are thinking in terms of “class.”

“In the United States, we never talk about class, but it is very important here. They are looking at a class of workers, and there are a lot of factors about who gets to be in that class—education, socioeconomic background, a cultural level of sophistication,” Mozingo said. “In the end, these very successful IT companies are building these environments to attract this class of worker.”

Those workers often consider themselves part of a global culture and workforce, unaffiliated with a nation-state. The campus form, which has migrated worldwide, is the corporate world’s version of a Hilton Hotel, ubiquitous and overwhelmingly pleasant: “The predictability is an enormous attraction,” she said. “No one is very worried about getting mugged.”

Workforce demographics at Silicon Valley technology companies have come in for public scrutiny in recent weeks as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., LinkedIn Corp. and Facebook Inc. disclosed the gender, race and ethnicity of their global and U.S. workforces. All four companies largely employ white and Asian men.

The companies, echoed by economists, have argued that the profile reflects the labor-force market, where most of those earning advanced degrees and the requisite training are white and Asian men. They have vowed to contribute to change. But others, including well-known technology journalist Kara Swisher, have attributed the cause to “covert racism,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Mozingo says her research found “there was a very white-guy, elitist point of view that prevailed in some circles of the early high-tech industry.” She cited William Shockley, a Stanford University professor, co-inventor of the transistor and a Nobel prize winner, as an example. She does not think today’s Silicon Valley companies are racist.

“It is the issue of the valley. ‘Is the valley urbanizing?’ is not a rhetorical question. That means a shared public realm that is multi-ethnic and multi-age, and you can’t do that by building closed campuses.” Bryan Shiles, co-founding principal, WRNS Studio LLC

While the relationship between the rise of the American housing suburbs and race has been documented, Mozingo’s research appears among the first to overtly link corporate land-use practices to workforce race and social class.

San Francisco business and workplace design consultant Bryant Rice likened getting a job at a global company and campus to being accepted into a country club. “(Apple, Google and Facebook) have created these closed enclaves where you have only badged access. It’s not exclusive in race or age or economics, or by intent to have a homogenous population, but it does create these prestigious enclaves where they control the access,” he said.

Samsung Semiconductor's North San Jose headquarters sets a new pace for urbanization in the 5,000-acre area, with a large public plaza facing North First Street, limited building setback and two, 10-story buildings.

Samsung Semiconductor’s North San Jose headquarters sets a new pace for urbanization in the 5,000-acre area, with a large public plaza facing North First Street, limited building setback and two, 10-story buildings.

Silicon Valley is experiencing a corporate building boom, suggesting a near one-time opportunity to truly redirect land use. Valley office developers and companies including Samsung, Facebook, Apple and Google have 6.7 million square feet of new corporate office space under construction, according to newly released mid-year data from Jones Lang LaSalle. It is the largest concentration of new office construction in the country on a percentage basis, expanding the existing stock by more than 10 percent.

But with some exceptions—such as the rising Samsung Semiconductor Inc. North American headquarters in North San Jose—the new offices (and renovation of millions more square feet of existing stock) repeat past development patterns. “I am incredibly critical of the same-old, same-old campuses that are more or less freshening their cultural attributes but are the same closed environments,” said Bryan Shiles, a founding partner and architect at WRNS Studio LLP. “Just because there is no obvious surface parking does not mean it is connected to the public realm.”

His corporate clients in the valley are seeking strategies to unify suburban campuses, creating “a nascent public realm,” he said. “It is a new conversation, and maybe takes a lot of optimism.”

In the case of Intuit Inc., which is expanding its Mountain View headquarters by 360,000 square feet, the company conceived a “Main Street” connector for its disjointed campus, which abuts the vast complex of similarly suburban Google buildings east of U.S. 101. WRNS has designed one of Intuit’s two new 180,000 square-foot buildings to face and engage with the Main Street, Marine Way, using a new café and meeting space. The third and fourth floors have outside work areas, including a fully equipped outdoor conference room on the fourth floor. If it isn’t full-fledged urbanism, it anticipates that state, Shiles said.

North San Jose: I-n-c-h-i-n-g toward Urbanity

Elsewhere in the valley, areas like San Jose’s North First Street and Santana Row and The Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View are inching toward urbanity with housing, offices and retail clustered within walking distance. Google has leased a former Hewlett-Packard Co. campus near the Mountain View redevelopment, which is also adjacent to a Caltrain station. Google also has sought to have housing near its North Bayshore neighborhood headquarters, but the city of Mountain View has turned the company down. “These mixed-use environments have a much better chance of reaching urbanity and its inclusiveness of all people,” Shiles said.

“It is the issue of the valley. ‘Is the valley urbanizing?’ is not a rhetorical question. That means a shared public realm that is multi-ethnic and multi-age, and you can’t do that by building closed campuses,” he said.

Chris Glennon, Intuit’s head of global real estate and workplace, said the company considered incorporating a shop or restaurant into the ground floors of both new buildings. He allowed for the possibility at one, but rejected it outright for the other, citing security.

Security is also a consideration for tenants considering a showy, designed 777,000-square foot cloverleaf, corporate campus on 18 acres at Central and Wolfe roads in Sunnyvale, said Scott Jacobs, chief executive at Landbank Investments LLC. While incorporating stringent sustainability standards and vogue rooftop gardens, the building could be placed on any site large enough and has limited street connection. It is not an example of urbanism. How open it would be—retail and other amenities on the ground floor available to the public, for instance—depends on the tenant or tenants. “These large tech companies out there have different security needs; some are hyper-worried, others are O.K. with a more permeable project,” Jacobs told the CoreNet participants. “We can have ground-level retail that allows the public to go though, but it may not happen.”

That plea for protection of corporate secrets, one of Apple’s primary goals and a persistent rationale for permitting closed campuses, strikes him as “unenlightened,” Rice said. People routinely move among companies, taking knowledge with them; people employed by different technology companies socialize together. “I understand the need to protect your core business and the dangers of competition, but I still think that being open and more concerned with the loyalty and experience of your employees gets you further,” he said.

Mozingo’s book traces the birth and evolution of corporate-American architecture including the corporate estate for the company’s top management, the research-and-development corporate campus, and the corporate office park for regional corporate headquarters. “The office park dominates the Silicon Valley landscape,” she said.

The first corporate research-and-development campus was AT&T Bell Laboratories in Summit, N.J., which was “radical” in its change from the historically gritty, industrial workplace, she said. “It was an upper middle-class suburb.”

Opened in 1942, it offered good food and offices that were “light and airy and bucolic,” Mozingo told the CoreNet gathering. “It had moveable walls and big windows and lounges and seminar rooms. At 4 p.m. daily they would gather to discuss things.”

The development patterns spread from the American South, where they first emerged in Alabama and Georgia, to the Northeast, finally making their way to the West Coast when Weyerhaeuser Co. built its Washington state headquarters in 1971. Until Apple, it was the only West Coast example of a corporate estate, she said.

“They were intended to capture the employee for the entire day, and they did not make connections to the larger metropolis deliberately,” Mozingo told the CoreNet gathering. “The goal was to bring the employees to the workplace and to keep them there.

“Some of this may sound familiar.”

Mozingo spoke to the CoreNet Global Northern California chapter in late June for a program titled, “The New Urban-Oriented Workplace—Building Trends in the Tech Sector.” CoreNet is a professional organization for people who operate and help to build and locate corporate offices. Mozingo’s observations, also shared in a subsequent interview, are grounded in her research for “Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes” published in 2011 by The MIT Press. MIT Press publishes 200 books a year dedicated to cutting-edge research in disciplines including architecture and social theory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top