Photo: pshabNow that Facebook has eaten the entire world and drunk its milkshake, the company understandably needs more space to let it all hang out. So they’re moving from their offices in Palo Alto, Calif., to a campus of their own in Menlo Park, a corporate park that is being vacated by the retreating Sun Microsystems.
Here’s the thing about the move. The choice of the site, which is cut off from the rest of Menlo Park by roads, railroad tracks, and protected wetlands, makes one thing quite clear: Facebook doesn’t want to do the work of connecting the brains of every living human to advertisers while it’s in an actual place, like downtown Palo Alto or San Francisco. That could get messy.
But hey! They know they’re supposed to want some kind of placey-ness thing, because places are cool, right? So they’re remaking the insular kingdom of the campus into a simulacrum of a real neighborhood. Or something.
The New York Times went to take a look:
[John Tenanes, Facebook’s director of global real estate,] said he was determined to employ small firms like Roman and Williams, [the New York design firm behind the Ace Hotel and its Breslin and John Dory restaurants]. He said he liked the “casual eclectic” look of the firm’s Ace Hotel after he stayed there on a recent trip. (The Ace crowd, which tends toward 20somethings with laptops, mirrors the Facebook employees’ demographic.) Unlike the Sun campus, with color-coordinated buildings reminiscent of an upscale resort, Facebook is looking for “an urban streetscape where no one architect or designer” dominates, Mr. Tenanes said. “Random is good,” he added.
Robin Standifer, a principal at Roman and Williams, said Facebook wanted there to be “life and soul and some idiosyncrasy to the campus.”
“They don’t want to buy into that corporate structure,” she said. “They want to continue to feel hungry.”
Putting aside the fact that it’s probably hard to feel hungry when you’ve just swallowed many billions of dollars, Facebook is going to be dealing with some real practical changes in the way its 2,000 employees interact with the world. According to the Times article, some 40 percent of the company’s workers currently commute by foot, bike, or bus. It’s unclear when, or if, the new campus can be connected to the outside world in a way that is friendly to bikes or pedestrians.
To address that issue, as well as community concerns about what’s in the move for Menlo Park, Facebook recently hosted a design charrette where architects and community members tossed around ideas about how to create connections between the campus and the surrounding city — maybe a pedestrian underpass to a nearby neighborhood will be reopened, maybe public transit will be developed.
That’s all great, and some of it might actually happen. But the bigger question is, why did a theoretically forward-thinking company like Facebook choose to relocate to a location that — in its isolation and current car-dependence — epitomizes the failed planning strategies of the past two or three generations?