Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, once said: “I think that people just have this core desire to express who they are. And I think that’s always existed.”
While Facebook gives more than 500 million of its users the opportunity to express themselves the way they like, it also gives its workers the freedom to roam across the campus, laze on couches and literally ‘write on walls’ at its new headquarters in Silicon Valley.
The new office campus in Menlo Park, California features a “hacker” theme with rusted steel beams, plywood-covered corridors and exposed heating ducts part of its decor. Facebook spent $250 million on renovating the facility that will accommodate about 2,000 workers moving out from former Palo Alto campuses.
?We wanted to keep honest, industrial materials and give the place its own eclectic look,? Everett Katigbak, the Facebook designer overseeing the facility, said while showing off the first of 10 structures to be occupied at the 1 million-square-foot (93,000 sq. meter) complex. The designer boasted the world?s largest social-networking company is keen on expressing its ?hacker? style culture.
Internet technology firms are leading the trend to tweak properties that can match their taste and project their identity in profound ways. ?Creative space? is outperforming other property types, Dan Fasulo, managing director of Real Capital Analytics Inc., said while citing a Moody?s Investors Service index of prime buildings in six major US cities that are home to renowned tech companies. The property index gained almost 33 percent from its low two years ago.
?They?ve seen their value skyrocket,? Fasulo said of the properties tracked in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington. ?A new generation of corporate leaders is looking at space-planning as a core part of business to increase productivity and keep people in the office. The old guard looked at it as an expense.?
Other architecture and property consultants also agree. “Most companies are ‘behind the curve’ and don?t efficiently use their offices. Tech firms, on the other hand, lead the way on transforming the use of stairways, corridors, nooks and kitchens as places where workers can meet on the fly,” said Georgia Collins, North America managing director of DEGW, part of Aecom Technology Corp. (ACM), which consults on architecture and engineering projects.
BEHIND FACEBOOK’S WALLS
The new Facebook campus hosts office buildings arranged along a narrow interior courtyard with storefronts featuring food, medical, cleaning and other complimentary services for employees.
The social network’s headquarters complex is build on internal atriums that provide ample natural light. Under the gigantic glass roof is a tiki bar, rows of white benches and display monitors where employees sit down, sip coffees and enjoy work breaks.
People at Facebook insist lively atmosphere may be needed because the new campus sits in relative isolation between an expressway and San Francisco Bay salt ponds.
Tyler Rose, chief financial officer for Kilroy Realty Corporation, believes buildings having horizontal layout with tall ceilings and few interior walls acquire new lustre and aesthetic appeal and maximise uninterrupted floor space.
According to Jones Lang LaSalle commercial brokerage, tech and energy companies alone have accounted for 45 per cent of occupant growth in San Francisco and Silicon Valley this year while overall national office outlook stayed ‘stagnant’.
The trend will get a huge boost when technology bigwigs like Google Inc. and Twitter Inc. will move into non-traditional properties in near future. Internet search giant purchased a block-square warehouse in New York’s Eight Avenue for $1.8 billion.
On the other hand, social networking website with more than 100 million users will transform a 1930s furniture mart in San Francisco into a “rich, urban campus” before moving in by mid 2012.
Online gaming company Zynga Inc, whose IPO crashed Tuesday for second consecutive day, has also acquired a former wholesale fashion mart in San Francisco to build its headquarters.
NEW OFFICE AND RISKS
John Guinee is a property analyst who follows real estate investment trusts for Baltimore-based Stifel Nicolaus & Co. He believes that today’s corporate world is realising the fact that age and exterior appearance matter less than reconfigurable interiors because young people look out for funky space.
?Real estate developers think tenants want architecturally significant space on the outside, but they really want cool space on the inside, access to public transportation and open- space planning,? Guinee described.
“Open areas, rather than cubicles, encourage ‘cross-pollination’ favoured by tech, media and ‘knowledge-based’ firms,” Chris Caton, a REIT analyst at Morgan Stanley in San Francisco, told Bloomberg.
But there is a down-side to such kind of properties. Single-tenant properties are especially vulnerable to tech world’s boom-and-bust cycles with a risk of collapsing altogether. ?Startups and early-stage companies have a strong desire for creative-type space, but they pose the greatest risk because they?re not making money yet,? Gregory Davies, vice president at Cassidy Turley brokerage in San Jose, said.
TIMELINE IN FUTURE
Peter Rummell is a property developer in Jacksonville, Florida and also the chairman of the Urban Land Institute, a Washington-based trade group for developers, investors and planners. He believes ‘cool spaces’ will eventually spread across US cities as tech-savvy workers from many industries will spend more time at work and conduct their daily business from hand-held devices.
?It was way out there on the water, a big old thing that nobody was using,? he said.
That was then, this is now. As of Monday, Facebook is working on transforming its sprawling tech hub on Willow Road into a ‘cool space’ again.
?Now that we have mobile devices, we?re freed from the desk, which means we need more formal and informal spaces where we develop relationships and have conversations,? Georgia Collins, managing director of DEGW, consultant on architecture and engineering projects, said while commenting on future office spaces.
(By Moign Khawaja with input from Bloomberg)