Google’s Newest “Circus Tent” Office Complex

If you’ve driven through Mountain View’s North Bayshore vicinity of late, you’ve probably seen (and gawked at) the incredible circus tent structure being erected on East Charleston Road. Its expansive tent roof is visually analogous to the neighboring Shoreline Amphitheatre, making one wonder if indeed Shoreline is getting an architectural update in a nearby location. But that is not the case. The massive hangar-esque structure is none other than Google’s latest office complex, which is a collaborative effort between Danish firm, BIG Builds spearheaded by Bjake Ingels, and Thomas Heatherwick, founder of London-based Heatherwick Studios. 

‘When we met each other in Mountain View we thought it would be interesting to work with each other, and Google, to come up with something that would be much more creative than anything we could have come up with ourselves’, said Ingels.

BIG Builds, which was featured in Netflix series, Abstract season 1, episode 4, is renowned for designing buildings that “defy convention while incorporating sustainable development principles and bold sociological concepts.” Heatherwick Studio’s Thomas Heatherwick is recognized for the “innovative use of engineering and materials in public monuments and sculptures.” The two seem the perfect pair to design Google’s newest facility, which, according to Ingels, will set the new standard in workplace design.

The architectural duo’s initial design concepts for the Charleston East complex was unveiled in 2015 and included 1,100,000 square feet of interior space, a transparent geodisc dome roof, and robots (yes, you read that right) that would construct the facility. After LinkedIn threw a wrench in the works soon after, claiming some of the land Google planned to build on, the plans were revised and downscaled to 595,000 square feet. It appears the robots may also have been mothballed, at least for this project.

The amended architectural plans use minimalist materials, primarily metal and glass, and still include the gravity-defying undulating canopy-type roof, which will be comprised of now opaque rectangular and triangular sections covered with photovoltaic solar panels. The large canopy regulates the indoor climate as well as air quality and sound while also enclosing flex-space components that can be moved and altered as needed. Rooms will be divided into rectilinear pavilions, with the majority of the office space on the upper mezzanine level while cafes, shops, labs, and event spaces occupy the ground floor.

The floor plan purposefully juts out beyond the roof to create outdoor spaces. A pedestrian “green loop” pathway will meander throughout the building lined by clusters of shops and cafes. Native plants and habitats will be merged into the design, promoting local biodiversity and community education opportunities.

“Everything has turned into parking lots,” explains Ingels. “We are trying to reverse this process and recreate some of the natural qualities that have been there in the first place. To transform the sea of parking that you find today into a natural landscape where you will find an abundance of green outside, but also inside.”

The amended plans for Google’s first purpose-built office complex were officially approved in 2017 by Mountain View’s City Council. The now-underway building is situated next to the corporation’s current headquarters, which Google has occupied since 2003. Ingels and Heatherwick are also collaborating on Google’s London-based headquarters, located in King’s Cross. Deemed the Zone A Building, it is very different architecturally than the company’s Charleston East facility, the primary feature being its expansive roof garden and landscaped terraces.

If you haven’t yet seen the Ingels-Heatherwick Mountain View masterpiece, we recommend a drive-by. It truly is awe-inspiring and a futuristic architectural design feat.

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