Gehry's Facebook vision: A social garden | August 29, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - August 29, 2012

Gehry's Facebook vision: A social garden

Iconic architect plans building for Menlo Park

by Sandy Brundage

Frank Gehry is to architecture as Mark Zuckerberg is to social media: A star.

The famous architect, known for award-winning designs described at times as "a collision of parts," is now gracing Menlo Park with his expertise.

Since his earliest work in the 1960s, Mr. Gehry has designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and many other internationally noted structures known for their highly unusual shapes and angles. The Pritzker laureate's Santa Monica home, built of corrugated metal and chain link fences blended with a wood frame, has become a tourist attraction.

His partnership with Facebook developed after informal talks gave way to a mutual desire to work together, a Facebook spokesperson said.

Facebook initially planned to put 440,000-square-feet of buildings on its west campus, located on Constitution Drive across the street from the main east campus. But that's now off the drawing board.

Instead, Mr. Gehry designed one large "room" perched on top of a parking structure and capped by a rooftop garden. The theme of open-ended interior space echoes that of the main campus, where buildings are broken up by conference rooms and niches for small groups.

Facebook lead designer Everett Katigbak said the new design has much in common with the east campus. "It's better to think of it as a refinement of our current campus (rather) than a separate design altogether," he said. It will replicate the polished concrete and exposed ceiling beams seen at headquarters, "though it will no doubt have certain touches added by the Gehry team. As of now, the design is too early on to confirm what those will be."

The project breaks ground next spring, assuming the city's review of the new design goes smoothly. Covering about 10 acres, the office will house up to 2,800 engineers, according to Facebook. The company declined to disclose the price tag.

"(Mr. Gehry) is famous for his ability to execute on the wishes of his client while keeping his projects within their budget. As such, the costs of the campus should be on par with a typical Silicon Valley campus," a spokesperson said.

Asked what drivers passing the campus on Bayfront Expressway might notice, Mr. Katigbak said the idea is to avoid a striking design. "We hope that the building will be reflective of the current architecture in the area. ... Instead, with the trees along the the rooftop and ground-level gardens, we hope the building will almost recede into the background of a forest-like landscape. Though still very early in the design process, we plan for the exterior of the building to be clean and simple."

Facebook's director of global real estate, John Tenanes, shared his excitement about the upcoming expansion.

"The new building is reflective of our culture, and we hope it will offer an amazing environment for the engineers who will work there," he said. "We look forward to working with Frank and his team and anticipate a smooth and timely completion of the project."


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