Inside Silicon Valley

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To those no doubt familiar with the globally pervasive products and services devised in Silicon Valley, the actual environs that all this takes place in is often much less known.  It would be sensible to imagine that these centers of global technology are housed in gleaming campuses that are on the cutting edge of innovative architecture. In reality, what people find when they visit is typically a bland business park type milieu.

At its core, Silicon Valley thrives on unique and pervasive forms of collaboration. This is what has driven such a high rate of change, and creative thinking, from grand intuitive leaps to the writing of the basic code that serves as the foundation of progress – teams working together, inspired by each others’ work.  To harness this collaboration, teams working on projects move and relocate within the office to be together.  This is called “hoteling” and it reflects the real need for flexible workspace.  Much of the open plan office floor accommodation is therefore organized around “benching”: rows of desks with seating creating that can look a bit like a long dining table. In addition to this, there is an increasing number of different types of meeting spaces from the more traditional conference room to huddle spaces for just two or three people to impromptu meeting areas to even covered gardens.

The most important recent influence on Silicon Valley interiors has, however, been the design of hospitality interiors with their often plush furniture and finishes. And so Silicon Valley office reception areas and other amenities resemble ones found in upscale hotels, clubs, and restaurants. Saying that the best-known feature of Silicon Valley offices is perhaps to do with the idea of play at work. Images of slides, skateboard ramps and pinball machines in brightly colored interiors may well come to mind. In a sense, there is a shift towards “Work as Lifestyle”. Silicon Valley is, however, growing up with a palette of deeper, darker paints becoming more prevalent as well as design solutions that pay homage to context.

By developing the office model along these lines, California has succeeded in nurturing an architectural export in convivial workspaces aimed at companies interested in using the latest technology creatively. Silicon Valley has thus given a physical manifestation to working with the very technologies that emerge from California and continue to impact on people’s daily lives all around the world. The next challenge is to introduce the energy and spirit that made for these vibrant tech company interiors into the way the external fabric is thought about in and around Silicon Valley. The first moves on that front are taking place but perhaps by thinking “inside out” something truly remarkable could be achieved.

–John Marx, Chief Artistic Officer at Form4 Architecture

This blog piece is exploring ground to be developed further in the Form4 Architecture AR monograph to be published in May 2018.

 

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Examples of how the language of hospitality industry’s interior design has influenced that found in Silicon Valley offices over recent years.
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Informal meeting areas with whiteboards or pin-up walls are popular ways for staff to gather and brainstorm.
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An example of how people are wired up around the office working in communal seating areas in the foreground and within a typical huddle space in the background.

All images from Form4 Architecture’s project for Netflix in Los Gatos (Silicon Valley), California, 2006.

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