In our series of extracts from The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative we wanted to include an excerpt from writer Sam Lubell and his essay “Rethinking Silicon Valley”. Sam edited the California edition of The Architects’ Newspaper over many years and is currently a staff writer at Wired magazine. His interests and knowledge of the Bay Area thus made him uniquely placed to write about Silicon Valley in The Absurdity of Beauty. His essay on the architecture of the Silicon Valley is an insightful description of the urbanistic challenges office developments for high-tech industries continue to face as they are built ever further afield.
As architects at Form4 Architecture, we are particularly interested in this discourse having worked with many high-tech companies in the area. Over the years, we have sought ways in which to improve a sense of placemaking and the relationship of our buildings with their neighbours. We have tried to match the enthusiasm and interest our clients have for creating uniquely forward-looking office interiors to the exteriors of these buildings.
It is a curious phenomenon that in terms of progressive design thinking Silicon Valley excels at space planning and fit-out but less so at genius loci. As Sam suggests, change is taking place and we are excited to be part of a movement that hopes to see the Silicon Valley as a place that people will not only go to work but one in which they will want to live.
“Rethinking Silicon Valley” by Sam Lubell – Extract:
So while today’s glamorous tech entities have brought a welcome emphasis on design with a capital D to the area, they haven’t transformed what remains a placeless place. Collaboration here is internal, not with the community; offices are open – and often they’re arranged with their own internal streets – but that’s as far as their urbanism reaches. Their elaborate contortions and urban simulacra haven’t reached beyond their corporate boundaries; and they’re not ready to rethink the larger social fabric.
Urban change, though, is slowly seeping into this anti-urban culture. Albeit via baby steps. Santa Clara is exploring mixed-use development around its new stadium. San Jose’s Santana Row, while hardly authentic, has developed into a true centre of human activity. Companies such as Adobe are going vertical in San Jose’s downtown core. And downtown Palo Alto, the most walkable and vibrant of Silicon Valley’s places, now demands higher rents than San Francisco.
Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com
CREDITS: Grid of building images by Mark Luthringer
Silicon Valley Aerials by Steve Proehl
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