The Google Visitor Experience opened on Oct. 12 with much fanfare and media coverage. Although the multi-national tech company's headquarters in Mountain View is privately owned, it is adjoined by public parks and greenspace. So, it was possible to walk around the 26- acre site but not really have much interaction with Google employees.
The new visitor center changes all that, with opportunities to, as Communications Manager Bailey Tomson explained, "create a welcoming collection of public amenities by connecting the community space – now called the Huddle – with a pop-up shop and public cafe." And now there is also a chance to enjoy the corporate art collection.
After parking in the lot near the Shoreline Amphitheater, a short walk leads you to the first of several Guest Visitor stations. Visitor Experience employees cheerfully direct you to the store, the cafe or the art, all of which are located on one side of the signature Gradient Canopy building.
Walking across the street to an expansive park with walking paths, a large water feature, and lots of geese, offers a landscape that is not only scenic but must provide Google employees with ample opportunities to step outside and reset. The first public art work you'll encounter is "Halo" by SOFTlab, a colorful structure with a domed roof that re-creates the appearance of light reflecting off soap bubbles. According to the artist's statement, "the dichroic film on the crystalline interior of this artwork produces its beautiful effect through the principle of thin-film interference — selectively passing the light of a small range of colors while reflecting others." Taking a seat inside the structure, the prismatic light show is engaging, while also being meditative. Apart from the soft whirring sound of the Google buses going by, one would never know that you are only a short distance from Highway 101 and the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley.
Cross the street, while watching out for the many Google bikes, and another Visitor Experience staff person will direct you to the main plaza, which contains numerous large-scale outdoor sculptures. The pieces are sited directly on the plaza or carefully installed amid the native plants along the walkways. All are labeled with titles and QR codes for those who want more information.
"Quantum Meditation II" by Julian Voss-Andreae is a sculpture of a seated woman constructed of parallel slabs of stainless steel. In the yoga world, she is in hero's pose, a meditation position in which the person sits with knees bent, resting back on the heels. It's fun to view the piece from several vantage points, moving from side to side. As the description promises, her solid figure virtually disappears when you cross her line of gaze.
Moving on, a decidedly non-high-tech sculpture will capture your attention. It is a big, brown bear covered with 160,000 pennies. It's a whimsical piece and fun to see a figurative object in a high-tech collection but it does have a serious message. The artists behind the piece, entitled "Curious," are Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson Art and they want to make a statement about how species like the grizzly bear can easily become extinct.
An interactive sculpture titled "GO" is inspired by the world's oldest board game. The artists, a duo known as Hou de Sousa, also say that it references the astounding 3.5 billion questions asked on the Google search engine every day. The black and white discs – there are 600 of them – can be flipped and each one is inscribed with a question. Some are profound, like "Is there anybody out there?", some personal, such as "What is your earliest memory?" and some just silly, like "What makes the best pizza?" Hours could be spent reading the queries and changing the black and white patterns.
The largest artwork on the plaza is "Orb" by artist Marc Fornes. This curvilinear construction, made of almost 7,000 flat pieces of aluminum that have been joined by over 200,000 rivets, has been constructed by hand, according to the artist statement. The white strips seem to twist, turn and continue without a stopping point. Viewers can enter into the structure and enjoy views of the sky through the open roundels. The artist's statement explains that the piece was developed "using cutting-edge computational methods," which makes it very fitting for the setting.
A visit to the café is worthwhile, both for the food and to enjoy the space. The café is bright, spacious and airy, and helpful employees will take your order for organic offerings like salad, soup or sandwiches which are then delivered to your table. While eating your meal, you can enjoy the large, three-section wall mural that surrounds most of the dining area. It was created by John Patrick Thomas and is called "Farm to Table Roundtrip." It is a brightly hued narrative of just what goes into getting food from the ground where it is grown to our dining tables.
Adjacent to the dining area is The Huddle, a designated community space. "These new public amenities provide opportunities for local community groups, nonprofits, small businesses and artists to host events, showcase their work, and bring the community together to celebrate each other's contributions," Tomson said. Currently on view in this space is an example from Google's Artist in Residence Program, silk-screened art works by Miguel Arzabe.
In an email interview, the artist explained that he was invited to hold a series of paper weaving workshops. "The workshops were a great way to have conversations with people unmediated by technology or screens. I hope the artwork creates a visual reminder of the event when the public gathered together and used their hands – and encourages them to continue to do so," Arzabe said.
The corporate store has been thoughtfully designed, with sleek, minimalist displays of the company's many consumer products (phones, earbuds, tablets, security devices, etc.). There are also examples of artists' work here, like the monotype prints created by Angelica Trimble-Yanu. Entitled "Maka Oniye (Breathing Earth)," the prints depict "how advanced technologies, such as AI, are absorbed into Indigenous worldviews that already center a circular and harmonious relationship between humans and non-human entities, like animals and the earth."Yanu, who is a member of the Oglála Lakȟóta Sioux nation, had a very positive experience as a Google artist in residence. "Google provided me with a safe space to dream big when it came to my art. This collaborative approach with AI felt like a great way to speak about how my work incorporates new technology with traditional modes of printmaking."
There have been well-publicized layoffs at Google lately, but Tomson says the company still plans to acquire more art. "We'll continue to explore more ways we can recognize artists and bring new artwork into our spaces – from commissioning artists to create site-specific original artworks to having workshops led by various artists in residence."
The Google Visitor Experience, located at Google's Gradient Canopy building, 2000 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m-6 p.m and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. visit.withgoogle.com/
Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately described the status of Google's development in San Jose as at a halt. The company's Bay Area projects will be moving forward.