Viewpoint: Splashy launch for next Facebook buildingWith the announcement that world-famous architect Frank Gehry will design its new west campus on the Bayfront Expressway, Facebook sent a clear message that the company is in the social network business for the long haul, and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg is firmly on that course despite the company's lagging stock price.
As expected from a craftsman of Mr. Gehry's stature, preliminary sketches show an unusual, if not spectacular, office building designed to blend into the landscape, rather than crash the senses like his Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, or the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Mr. Gehry has fashioned a friendly workspace on the main floor, a parking garage below and a garden on the roof. Employees will see finishes inside similar to the look of the company's east campus, which has been completely converted to "Facebook" style from its days as a warren of cubicles for the now-departed Sun Microsystems.
And as last week's Almanac's cover photo showed, Mr. Zuckerberg was involved in the creation of the building's design with Mr. Gehry. John Tenanes, director of global real estate for the company, said, "The building is reflective of our culture, and we hope it will offer an amazing environment for the engineers who will work there. We look forward to working with Frank and his team and anticipate a smooth and timely completion of the project."
If it receives city approval in time, the company intends to break ground this spring on the 10-acre project that will house 2,800 engineers at a site formerly occupied by Tyco Electronics and later owned by General Motors, which sold the property after the economic downturn. No price for the new building was disclosed, but apparently the company is not worried about the cost, which a spokesperson said should be on par with a typical Silicon Valley campus.
From the city of Menlo Park's perspective, this time around the Facebook approval will be much less arduous; probably, no environmental impact report will be required since the new site was included in the report for the east campus. The company is requesting some zoning changes, but overall, the process should be straightforward, with Facebook paying a number of impact fees, but nothing like the charges for the east campus.
From the remarks he posted on his own Facebook page, it appears that Mr. Zuckerberg wants the very best for his employees and the Menlo Park campus. He said he is "...excited to work with Frank Gehry to design our new campus. The idea is to make the perfect engineering space: one giant room that fits thousands of people, all close enough to collaborate together. It will be the largest open floor plan in the world, but it will also have plenty of private, quiet spaces as well. The roof of the building will be a park that blends into the community with a long walking trail, a field and lots of places to sit. From the outside it will appear as if you're looking at a hill in nature."
Unlike the converted Sun Microsystems space on the east campus, the west campus building will demonstrate how the company sees itself, and how much it values its employees. To succeed in the highly competitive social media industry, Facebook will need to attract the best and brightest minds to its work spaces. An exotic building designed by someone of Frank Gehry's stature is one way Facebook can gain an edge over other mega competitors like Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Apple.
The company already offers a lineup of perks, such as free shuttle rides to work from San Francisco, free dry cleaning and free gift cards to shop in downtown Menlo Park. Mr. Zuckerberg wants the best engineers to work at Facebook, and the new west campus should help him meet his goal. There is a lot of work to be done if Facebook expects to continue adding to the nearly one billion people around the world who continue to use the social network.