Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moving day nears for Facebook

The New York Times has an interesting article about Facebook's preparations to move into the old Sun Microsystems campus located at the west end of the Dumbarton Bridge in Menlo Park.

I've been to those offices a number of times, mostly in the late 1990's when I worked for Sun Microsystems. The offices themselves are nice enough, on the water and with views of the bay, but the overall atmosphere is sterile, isolated, and unwelcoming, as the Times observes:

the Facebook site is surrounded on three sides by water, and separated from the rest of Menlo Park by railroad tracks and a divided highway.

The site is so insular that in the two decades it was occupied by Sun Microsystems it was nicknamed Sun Quentin (a reference to San Quentin prison, about 40 miles north). And because Facebook provides its employees with three meals a day in its own cafeterias, there may be little reason for them to venture off the property.

Facebook, which was desparate for space, is trying to figure out how to transform this location to make it more successful, which for them seems to mostly mean re-arranging the internal space to fit more employees in:

because Sun’s engineers had private offices, while most Facebook employees work in unpartitioned spaces, Mr. Tenanes said the one million-square-foot campus could handle a much larger population than it was originally designed for.

Contractors have already replaced rows of small offices in one of the Sun buildings with a loftlike space where desks will be pushed together in groups of four.

And some of their ideas seem downright odd; am I just getting old?

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.

Right now the courtyard that connects them suggests a botanical garden, but that is going to change as Mr. Tenanes reduces the amount of vegetation on the site and adds more paths.

Around the Bay Area, most corporate office locations are awful; located in "business parks" in places like Pleasanton, San Ramon, Fremont, Santa Clara, Redwood Shores, etc., they are dull buildings where workers arrive by car, spend all day in their offices, then return by car to their homes in the evening. You don't go out for a pleasant walk with friends during the day; you don't wander to a nearby eatery down the block for lunch; you take your lunch in the corporate cafe and do your workouts in the company gym. And then you return to your cubicle and code.

Those few areas of the Bay Area where interesting street life abounds are notable for their vibrancy: San Francisco, Oakland, Palo Alto, Berkeley, San Jose. High tech companies know that their employees love these locations, where transport is available, great restaurants, stores, and nightlife are nearby, and lots of other interesting people are close at hand, and so the best companies work hard to try to provide such facilities; witness this discussion of the efforts to keep the Twitter offices in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, I feel the pain of the Facebook employees who are soon going to lose their wonderful Palo Alto office space when the big move occurs this summer. Will they transform Sun Quentin into the next great location? Or will it deaden them, as it has deadened others before? I guess, as they say, time will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment