A couple of months ago, I set out on my latest “Grand Tour” Amble. But this was no ordinary amble, no this felt more like a journey to the center of the earth. For on this day I was traveling to Google’s world headquarters, or as it has come to be known, the “Googleplex”. Here’s the route, and as always, it was accessed via public transit, in this case, via CalTrain’s San Antonio station, and included a sojourn out to nearby Shoreline Park. Here’s the 5-milish route, and, of course, courtesy of Google ™
As you might imagine, in these parts, walking through this suburban neighborhood to get there can generally range from bland to grim to inhospitable, and that was the case most of the way, though there were sidewalks at least:
I was really not sure what was waiting for me. I knew the Googleplex was some kind of campus. The notion of the suburban corporate campus is a relatively recent one in the grand arc of building design, really taking off in the 1950’s. One of the prime examples was Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center outside Detroit. Of course, in the hands of the 1950’s modernist, the campus was meant to embody the promise of the corporation, expressed in a pristine modern language, with every detail reinforcing the whole.
But the champion of every detail re-enforcing the whole was Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright often insisted, and was often given the chance, to design everything down to the napkin holders. His most noteworthy shot at the corporate campus was the Johnson Wax Building, with its infamous wax-like interior columns:
But of course, that was the 50’s. Its a different world, not to mention this is laid back Silicon Valley, and Google. I wondered, was there security? Was it gated? Was it more of a collegiate campus, a “traditionally bland office park”, or a new model, an emerald city on the hill, pointing us all in a new direction, whilst embodying the company’s internet ingenuity.
I was not sure where the ‘campus’ began, or when I had entered its hallowed grounds, but suddenly two people whooshed past me- and not in a car, but on bikes, painted suspiciously with Google’s telltale rainbow. Then I saw a sign, then another, and that was it, I apparently, had arrived. I was underwhelmed- it did as it turns out have the styling of a very bland 80’s office park. In fact, here is it what it looks like from the air , and of course, courtesy of GoogleMaps ™:-/ :
The only real hint that this might be a bit different than your run of the mill office park were the bikes. But I intended to venture in , look inside if I could. Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I thought about what I might find, I couldn’t shake this image:
As I inched closer to the heart of the campus, I saw more bikes. Moving through the parking lots, and there were plenty of them, I noticed some were shaded with photovoltaics. Yes, Google was doing their part. A nice touch, but I still imagined many solo auto commuters heading out here; as my walk out had shown this place to be largely in the middle of nowhere.
And then , as I stepped up into the center part of the campus, I was joined by several other visitors. We came upon security- finally. Here is the artist rendition of that encounter:
Well, something like that. At any rate, we arrived in the heart of the campus. Was I being watched? Did they know I really didn’t really belong here? Was I being tailed by GOOGLECOP™. Well, clearly we had arrived at a little slice of paradise, or was it “GOOGLADISE ™” . Again, my expectations were off on this day, why had this image been stuck in my head ? :
No, wasn’t quite like that. No, it was actually a pretty serene, well done series of courtyards, which provided, I guess, everything a Google employee would want:
Here on the sumptiously landscaped grounds, engineers frolicked with IT managers, and everything was just right. There were organic gardens,and beach volleyball courts.
There were posters for fabulous happy hours, such as this one. From the looks of these two play-ahs, this one’s gonna be da’ bomb (that was painful):
And , well, I am not sure what these two were up to, just up to there eyeballs in all things Google, or GOOGLEBALLS ™
In fact, one need hardly leave, except to sleep I suppose, and even then……. In addition to all manner of food and entertainment, there was even on-site haircuts this day.
Yeah, they seemed to have thought of everything here at the Google campus. And, it occured to me that’s a perfect representation for Google- everything. They are everywhere, providing all you could ever need- maps , images, advertisements, videos, and yes, googleballs. So, less the architecture than the services and amenities that embody the Google on the Ground.
Perhaps for some though, its a bit much, as the fellow shown above opined in an article. It was for me too, just, I don’t know, too preciously predictable? Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder. A number of years ago, during the dot-com boom, I worked in a warehouse south of market, in an area that for years had been occupied by artists and architects. As the dot-com boomed, wave upon wave of almost too weird to believe start-ups snapped up space (“the stoner orders the movie, the wine, AND the pizza on our site, and we deliver it, on a unicycle!!”). Rents soared, and this forced out a lot of architects/artists. And while those of us that remained continued to draw away in our rather unremarkable settings, 20-somethings skateboarded to work at 11:00 with dog in tow to work at stoner.com, pulled down eye-popping salaries, and I suppose heralded a new age. Never quite did understand what any of them actually did, or made. But they had good parties, and we would often crash them, mumbling something about being new in accounting, as one ordered a Mojito.
But back to our amble, and the sudden need to get outta here. It was starting to creep me out. So I headed across the street, beyond the outskirts of the emerald city, and found some beautiful trails near the Bay.
Ah, this was more like it. I was now beyond the reach of Google, breathing clean pure air. Oh the vistas, the cool soothing breeze, the warm sun. Soon, having hiked a bit, it was time to turn back, and…..where was I? I needed my I-phone…..I needed Googlemaps.
“Oh Wizard,, please show me the way home.” And it did.
There’s no place like home,
there’s no place like home.