Cathedrals to an internet age: Google’s new Kings Cross HQ is among the more outlandish designs by online giants

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Not so much vaulted ceilings and soaring towers, the British headquarters that Google means to build just north of Kings Cross Station will be more of a soil-hugging affair. To be made of steel, glass and laminated timber with designs meant to echo the industrial heritage of the area, the building will rise only to 11 storeys at its highest but will stretch 330 metres from end to end. That’s longer that the Shard is tall.

It will indeed be a cathedral dedicated to the new global faith of internet connectivity. If we are not wowed by its size, consider its other curlicues and adornments. Much of the rooftop will be a garden, there will be bicycle parking the size of seven tennis courts and a multi-storey climbing wall is also in the drawings.

Yet these UK plans unveiled just last week are but a Carraway cottage to the Gatsbyesque fantasies that the top companies of the cyber-age are planning for their respective home bases in the United States. Just in the next two or three years, Apple means to erect a new headquarters in Cupertino that will resemble a giant, spinning flying saucer, while Amazon has visions for two giant biospheres in downtown Seattle.

And even then, you have hardly started. Google is moving forward with plans for a vast new, purpose-built complex for its world headquarters at Mountain View in Silicon Valley that will include nine huge bent-rectangle buildings all connected by an elevated bicycle track. The idea, the company says, is that if you work there and like to pedal you will be able to “keep circling to your heart’s content”.

Meanwhile, ground breaking is expected any day on the madly ambitious new “West Campus” for Facebook’s headquarters in nearby Menlo Park. Low-slung like Google London, this is the work of star architect Frank Gehry and will allow workers to walk from end to end without having to go through a single door. And again, the rooftop will resemble nothing more than a summer park, greened to the gills.

Nor is it just American internet giants making such architectural statements. Samsung, the South Korean electronics company that is boldly challenging Apple for dominance in the cellphone market, has its own plans for a super new campus, also in Silicon Valley. If the Apple spaceship first dreamed up by the late Steve Jobs is extraordinarily large (a circular version of the Pentagon also comes to mind), so too will be the new Samsung complex, which will include an “amenity pavilion” with suitable employee distractions.

Yet it is Amazon’s plans for downtown Seattle that boggle the most.  Right next to three proposed 38-storey office towers will be the two huge glass biosphere domes crammed with plants and trees for staff members to roam in. The company aims to “create an alternative environment” where “employees can work and socialise in a more natural, park-like setting”. 

And commune, presumably, with butterflies. And, more importantly, with the Gods of the internet, whether their names are Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos.

The stats

Apple

The 2.8 million sq ft “Spaceship” campus, due to open in 2016, has drawn comparisons with the Death Star in Star Wars. It will house around 14,200 employees and cost an estimated $5bn (£3.25bn) to build. It will also contain a 1,000-seat auditorium, a gym and 300,000sq ft of “research” space.

Amazon

The 65,000sq ft, five-floor ‘Bio Dome’ will be filled with plants chosen for their ability to thrive in a microclimate comfortable for humans. Standing in the centre of Seattle, it will include a variety of botanical zones “modelled on ecologies found around the globe”.

Facebook

Mack Zuckerberg’s company hired architect Frank Gehry to design its West campus extension in California. The 420,000sq ft campus – essentially one large open room of 10 acres – will be home to Facebook HQ’s 3,400 engineers.

Samsung

Samsung’s new Silicon Valley complex, due for completion in 2015, will hold 2,000 employees. Comprised of two 10-storey buildings connected by bridges, the design is supposed to encourage collaboration between employees.

Google

The internet giant submitted plans last week for a London office described as a “groundscraper”. The Kings Cross development will sit in a 2.4-acre site and cost 650m. The site is expected to include a 20,000sq ft area for bike parking.

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