Mountain View Voice

News - February 24, 2012

Google gets ready for next big thing

Company adding 'experience center,' Project X to MV campus

by Daniel DeBolt

City officials have approved a set of plans to modify one of Google's main buildings in Mountain View to allow as many as 918 people to view Google's latest products, some of which may be under development in a set of new secret labs.

According to city documents and plans approved by planning officials in December, the 120,000 square foot "Customer Experience Center" requires extensive modifications to the east end of Building 40 at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway.

Google says workshops held in the new center will often be confidential, and that those who attend have interests "as vast as Google's products" — products which may soon go beyond the Internet.

City records also indicate that Google is up to something mysterious, requesting building permits for special laboratories at 2000 Charleston Road labeled for a "Project X" on city records. Google declined to comment, but the tech world is abuzz with rumors about Google's efforts to beat Apple at being the company to provide and store media at home with something called "Android@home." It may also allow people to use their smart phones and tablets to control home appliances such as lighting, heating and air conditioning. Perhaps to that end Google is building at least one RF-shielded anechoic chamber, according to city records, a foam padded room often used to test microwave radio devices.

The labs and $4 million experience center are among 72 Google building projects going on in North Bayshore valued at a total of $120 million, according to city records. Projects include numerous building renovations, Bloom Energy fuel cells, temporary buildings for shuttle drivers, electric vehicle charging stations and new Google cafes at 1225 Charleston Road, 1015 Joaquin Road, 2011 Stierlin Court and 323 Fairchild Drive.

Google already has impressed the world with its green buildings, lunch cafes, free messages for employees and other amenities. But according to the letter, Google has actually made it a goal to "amaze" visitors who may come to see products at the new customer experience center.

Workshops held at the center "allow Google to demonstrate, explain, and amaze their guests in a hands on, interactive environment supportive of their business propositions," said a letter from Google to city officials about the proposals.

Plans allow for what appears to be a new building in an older shell, complete with new conference rooms, a demonstration area, a workshop, a new patio and even a room designated for "executive fireside chats."

The center is for "guests, VIPs and key staff," according to the letter, which also calls it a "collaborative space," and likens it to a "museum, exhibit or mercantile space" to display Google's products.

The company enlisted the help of San Francisco-based architects Mithun to design the center, a firm that designed a children's museum inside a former government building in New Orleans and a sustainable village on the site of a former water treatment plant in Austin, Texas, among other projects. The firm isn't entirely new to Google — it also designed Google's store at its Mountain View campus where T-shirts and souvenirs are sold.

Google declined to comment on its products under development but a spokesperson addressed the Customer Experience Center in an email, saying, "Just as we continuously work to improve our products, it's important to iterate on our workspace to keep us productive. That's why we are adding additional meeting and workspace to our campus in Mountain View."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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