Google Adopts the Language of Steve Jobs for New HQ

Apple and Google are both bitter competitors and sometime partners in the smartphone business, but that hasn't stopped the search giant from looking to the computer company's legendary and late cofounder for inspiration.

In a Vanity Fair article about Google's new headquarters, the civil engineer in charge of the effort used ideas and language Steve Jobs developed at Pixar and was implementing at Apple's own Spaceship HQ to describe the building's intent.

Google Bay View Campus

Google Bay View Renderings
Credit: NBBJ

Googleplex Times Two

Google is building a new built-to-order headquarters in Mountain View the company is calling Bay View. This will be Google's first major building effort that doesn't involve repurposing existing structures to Google's needs.

“We’ve been the world’s best hermit crabs: we’ve found other people’s shells, and we’ve improved them,” David Radcliffe, the civil engineer who manages the company’s real estate projects, told Vanity Fair.

Google's current world headquarters, named the Googleplex (a fun nerdy play on math), was originally build by former tech giant Silicon Graphics. Google took it, redesigned it, expanded it, and did it's very own thing intended to make it easy for its employees to spend long hours working happily.

You can read more about it at Vanity Fair, but it was the language used to describe the building that caught our eye (after a heads up from TMO member mrmwebmax).

From the Vanity Fair piece:

The layout of bent rectangles, then, emerged out of the company’s insistence on a floor plan that would maximize what Radcliffe called “casual collisions of the work force.” No employee in the 1.1-million-square-foot complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk from any other, according to Radcliffe. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said. “We want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

The Building that Jobs Built

Readers of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs (Amazon, iBooks) might find those thoughts familiar. In Chapter Thirty Three "Pixar's Friends...and Foes," Mr. Isaacson described Pixar's headquarters in Emeryville, California.

According to Mr. Issacson, Steve Jobs, "had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations."

He did so by designing the building around a huge atrium that included all of the bathrooms (two large facilities for each sex), all of the mailboxes, the company's café, and the stairwell to get to any other part of the building. Even the screening theaters empty into this atrium, guaranteeing unplanned meetings.

"There's a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat," Mr. Jobs said. "That's crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they're doing, you say 'Wow,' and soon you're cooking up all sorts of ideas."

He added, "If a building doesn't encourage [encounters and unplanned collaborations], you'll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that's sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see."

"Steve's theory worked from day one," Pixar's visionary director John Lasseter told Walter Isaacson. "I kept running into people I hadn't seen for months. I've never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one."

The similarity in approach is unmistakable, and it shows that Google is a company willing to learn from the lessons of its competitors. Other companies where creativity is valued asset would no doubt benefit from taking their own notes (we're looking at you, Marissa Mayer).

One More Thing

Check out the rendering of Google's Bay View HQ at the top of this article. The buildings are rectangles, bent in the middle to form angles. They explode out from a central courtyard in many directions.

Now look at Apple's Spaceship HQ. It's a circle, complete. It's controlled and encapsulated.

Apple's Spaceship HQ

Apple's Spaceship HQ
Credit: Photo Released to Cupertino City Council

Both campuses may have been designed to spark "casual collisions" and "unplanned collaborations," but each was done in a way that utterly reflects the overall approach of their respective companies.

That's fascinating.