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Google unveils plans for a glass utopia in Mountain View

Google unveils plans for a glass utopia in Mountain View

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Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Google was set to submit a proposal for a new campus in Mountain View next week — and now we're getting our first look at that proposal, thanks to a report from Silicon Valley Business Journal. Unsurprisingly, Google isn't just settling for a more modern update to the vast, sprawling series of buildings that already make up its Mountain View offices. Instead, the company worked with Danish architect Bjarke Ingels from the Bjarke Ingels Group and Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio to build a series of city block-sized "canopies" — glass greenhouse-style buildings. Heatherwick told the SVBJ that the canopies were akin to "a piece of glass fabric, and draping it across some tent poles." Despite the abundance of glass, a "high-tech shading system" will be built in to keep the buildings from being too warm.

What's even wilder about these canopy buildings is that the basic building components like floors, ceilings, and walls will be reconfigurable in a matter of hours, thanks to small cranes and robots. It's a wild idea, and Google admits that much of the technology necessary for such a plan doesn't yet exist. "We envision there will be some more permanent structures like stairwells and restroom cores and things like that," David Radcliffe, Google's vice president of real estate, said to the SVBJ. "Then we think there will be other components you can actually take out and put in." Here's how Google's own blog post on the construction describes the ambitious plan:

Instead of constructing immoveable concrete buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas. (Our self-driving car team, for example, has very different needs when it comes to office space from our Search engineers.) Large translucent canopies will cover each site, controlling the climate inside yet letting in light and air.Beyond modularity, Google made it clear in its video introducing the campus that it wants this to be an endeavor that significantly improves the area. Specifically, the company is keen to replace the abundance of parkings lots that litter the campus with more green spaces and trees, giving the campus much more of a natural feel. The company will instead put all parking underground. Google also wants the campus not to be isolated from the rest of the community — Radcliffe said in Google's video that he imagines it more like an urban center in which Google employees and non-employees will pass through in equal measure, with plenty of paths for walking and biking around.

Rather than build in entirely new parts of Mountain View, Google is instead going to redevelop four existing sites where it already has buildings, but significantly increase the square footage — making up a total of 3.4 million square feet. It'll be a while before these buildings are ready, however — the first of four areas being redesigned isn't expected to be finished until the first quarter of 2020.

It's also worth noting that what Google envisions and is proposing to Mountain View today might be a long way from the reality of what the company ends up building. The company is competing with other technology companies — most notably LinkedIn — for limited development rights in the city. If Google's concept gets approved, that would likely put an end to LinkedIn's plans, and the city isn't keen to push a valuable company out of town.

Google is hardly the only Bay Area tech company trying to do something radical with its next office space, either. Facebook is in the process of building out a huge new part of its Menlo Park campus under the direction of architect Frank Gehry, whose work includes the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, 8 Spruce Street in New York, and the Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic. And, of course, Apple's massive and radical "spaceship" campus is currently under construction and promises to be powered entirely by renewable energy sources.

You can see more pictures of Google's wild new proposed campus here.