Architect Frank Gehry, with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg as he reviews the Facebook West design with Gehry's partner, Craig Webb. Source: Frank Gehry/Gehry Partners via Bloomberg
Frank Gehry designed the 420,000-square-foot Facebook West campus as one large room to aid the rapid formation of teams devoted to enhancing the social networking company's products. The flowing layout of workstations emphasizes the fluidity of product teams. Source: Frank Gehry/Gehry Partners via Bloomberg
A detail of the architectural model of the Facebook West campus. The interconnected volumes of the building emphasize the collaborative nature of the company, where human sociability is thought to bring innovation quickly to market. White and brown boxes stand in for a variety of meeting places, from conference rooms to cafes and product-launch "war rooms." Source: Frank Gehry/Gehry Partners via Bloomberg
An architectural model of the Facebook West campus designed by Frank Gehry in Menlo Park, California. For the company's singularly fluid work process, Gehry has lushly landscaped the roof as an outdoor meeting place or getaway garden. Source: Frank Gehry/Gehry Partners via Bloomberg
The current Facebook office in California, once the home of Sun Microsystems. The campus in Menlo Park is utilitarian to encourage staffers to adapt spaces quickly to their own needs. Photographer: James S. Russell/Bloomberg
Facebook's existing office park, which accommodates staff-generated graffiti and contributions by outside artists. A grouping of arcade game consoles becomes an opportunity for the informal sharing of ideas. Photographer: James S. Russell/Bloomberg
Gehry’s project will rise, beginning spring 2013, across a busy highway from Facebook East, the company’s current home at the edge of San Francisco Bay in Menlo Park, California. The company won’t disclose the project cost but says it’s consistent with the local office-park norm.
Wearing his customary black T-shirt, the 83-year-old Gehry confesses he has yet to master Facebook, but enjoys figuring out what makes his clients tick. For an exclusive first look, he walked me around massive study models of the campus in the high- ceilinged warehouse that is his Los Angeles office.
Mark Zuckerberg, the 28-year-old co-founder of Facebook, recognized a collaborative ethos much like his own. With his team, Gehry tries out ideas and solves problems by endlessly reworking architectural models. Zuckerberg peels away impediments to face-to-face interaction in his quest to expand social exchange on electronic devices.
In the building design, work benches line up in curving arcs like swarms of fish. They are organized into work-group “neighborhoods” dotted with meeting rooms that might be painted with graffiti and ad hoc lounges furnished with arcade- game consoles.
Gehry said skylights and clerestories in the 26-foot-high ceilings would shower the vast space with daylight.
If you decided to traverse the huge floor via RipStik, you might wave to co-workers talking outside pop-up pavilions called war rooms and devoted to launching products.
You would pass no private office or cubicle, but you could circle a glass-partitioned space at the very center of the floor where you might find Zuckerberg.
Outdoor-terraced cafes will serve sushi and barbecue.
A twisting wooden stair within a tall cube of glass will lead to a lush rooftop garden -- a place to escape.
“Mark said he wanted to be in the same room with all his engineers,” Gehry said. “I told him we could put the building up on stilts, park cars underneath and create a room as large as he wanted.”
This is not a Gehry project of shiny fronds of fluttering reflective metal. To support his vision of anti-hierarchy, free- form collaborative work, Zuckerberg tapped the Gehry who has built furniture out of cardboard and covered his own house in chain-link fencing.
The big open floor is a bold gambit: With the stock price reflecting some doubt about a rosy future, Zuckerberg risks a lot taking his vision still further from the corporate cubicle norm.
I had a look at Facebook East. There designers, engineers and product managers form development teams that may work together for days, weeks or months before dissolving.
The company only recently moved in, and it is still renovating buildings by demolishing private offices, tearing out acoustical ceilings to expose foil-wrapped ductwork, and dangling data cables onto workbenches. People pick up their laptops and go where their teams go.
I saw people working in groups at artisanal coffee bars and in the cavernous cafeteria (where three high-quality meals are served free every day). To work alone, people tuck themselves into diner-style booths or plop on couches in ubiquitous open lounges.
In periodic “hackathons,” the entire engineering staff rapidly fabricates prototypes and tests new ideas.
The devotion to horizontal space in the pursuit of collaboration leaves Facebook stuck in Menlo Park’s land of interaction-repelling office parks. Half the company’s staff lives in San Franciscowhere the city hosts human networking far richer than the most brilliantly designed office environment does.
You can’t find room for a 10-acre floor in the densely built-up city, though. Facebook shuttles city dwellers 30 miles to its campus with its own bus fleet.
The new building, expected to open in spring 2015, strives to enable even greater idea-hatching mobility. Gehry first proposed a long, rectangular box. Working with partner Craig Webb, he’s pushed and pulled the exterior to break down the building’s intimidating size. Paths loop around the densely planted roof to encourage people to use it as a place to meet or think. Skateboard-friendly ramps start at the roof and curl down to the ground.
“We’ve got to give them a system that’s not precious, that they can manipulate,” Gehry said. “We want it to work effortlessly.” It’s architecture that won’t preen, he promises. “My goal is a kind of ephemeral connectivity that you can’t take a picture of.”
(James S. Russell writes on architecture for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. He is the author of “The Agile City.” The opinions expressed are his own.)