Google has unveiled plans for an office campus that will undoubtedly be called extraordinary.
Google gave the Voice a look at the plans Friday morning for a 3.4 million-square-foot campus to hold 10,000 new employees, the first buildings Google will have designed and built in Mountain View, despite the city being home to its headquarters since its inception.
Google hired European architects Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick to develop the architecture and the result is an astounding proposal for a largely car-free campus that blurs the boundary between nature and offices.
Perhaps the most usual aspect of the design is the changeable nature of the interior elements, made possible through the use of special crab- and crane-like robots to move furniture and "prefabricated units" around. Google has called them "crabots" and has already invested heavily in the technology through the 2013 purchase of robotics company Boston Dynamics.
Designs show a lightweight, translucent canopy draped over an open, multi-story office area, with meandering walking paths, parking hidden under picturesque green landscapes, and publicly accessible retail stores and cafes open to the public. The buildings would be LEED platinum, with water recycling on site to achieve "net zero" water usage -- basically, all water would be recycled on site.
"We're trying to recreate the qualities that were there (in North Bayshore) in the first place," to transform it from a "sea of parking lots into a natural landscape with an abundance of green, not only outside, but also inside," Ingels says in a video about the project now posted on youtube.
Heatherwick added that "a humanistic spirit is something we feel is really important" in the design.
The reach of the proposal extends beyond North Bayshore. Google proposes to help fund a new network of bike paths in Mountain View and surrounding cities, including a bike boulevard on Latham and Church streets. The proposal also includes two new pedestrian bridges over Highway 101 (one at Shoreline Boulevard and another at Charleston Road).
There's a long list of $200 million in public benefits that could be hard to turn down, including a new public safety building, two new parks and a new educational science center in North Bayshore, a major expansion of the city's shuttle system and $1.5 million in scholarships for high schoolers.
With 3.4 million square feet of development replacing older buildings totaling 800,000 square feet, Google officials say they are aiming to develop all of the 2.5 million additional square feet allowed in North Bayshore under the city's new regulations for the area. Various other developers are vying for a piece of that same pie, including LinkedIn, which proposed 1.61 million square feet of offices on Friday, and 1.1 million square feet from four other projects. Proposals for large North Bayshore office projects were due Friday, Feb. 27, at 5 p.m.
"Google's plans are ambitious but they're not the only application turned in today," said City Council member Ken Rosenberg. "I very much look forward to sorting through all of the varying requests with my colleagues while we advance the conversation about the North Bayshore Precise Plan. This is terrifically exciting and the community benefits (from the various applications) may give us much of what we need."
Google also reveals in its proposal that it is "eager" to design a residential neighborhood on land it has intentionally left undeveloped on Shorebird Way and the west side of Shoreline Boulevard, something the City Council recently voted to study after it was a top election issue in November.
While the designs are stunning, the impact on the city's housing shortage also could be extraordinary. There's been talk of adding 5,000 homes in North Bayshore, though Google's proposed development could add 10,000 employees, and LinkedIn and other developers are proposing space for thousands more jobs.
"Google's plan for Mountain View's North Bayshore area is even more imaginative than I expected," said council member Lenny Siegel, who was elected on a pro-housing in North Bayshore platform in November. "It will be the City Council's job to ensure that Google is not the only business whose proposal is fully evaluated, and to make sure we don't allow the over-building of offices. We will be working with the companies to ensure that we do our best to provide housing and transportation for the people who work there."
Google has proposed only "affordable" homes as part of a public benefits package worth $200 million, if all four sites are developed. The homes would be built on a property Google owns at 800 East Middlefield Road, part of a 24-acre site Google bought after the council rejected a 750,000-square-foot office proposal for the site last year, saying the land would be better used for housing.
"Google's position (on affordable housing) is not surprising, since as far as I can recall, the outgoing council did not list housing or affordable housing as a community benefit," Siegel said. "I believe that the new council will be able to work with Google and other companies to include a significant fraction of less-unaffordable housing in new housing developments."
Google's Davis White estimated that up to 300 to 400 affordable homes could be built on the Middlefield Road site, but the city would have to allow Google to build 10,000 square feet of additional office space for every additional unit. That could mean adding 2.5 million more square feet of offices for 250 additional units.
Google proposes to provide a significant part of its public benefits funds towards a "world class" bikeway network through Mountain View and surrounding communities, called in the proposal the "8-to-80 bike gap closure program." "We envision a future where Mountain View and the surrounding communities have become the best and safest place to ride a bicycle in the entire country," the company says.
The project calls for spending $2 million on a bike boulevard on Latham and Church streets, which the city has proposed as well, with "traffic calming" barriers to discourage cut-through car traffic and provide a safer route for cyclists.
There are numerous public benefits to encourage biking in the city, including a bike shop in North Bayshore as large as 3,000 square feet. Free rent for three years and $100,000 in corporate spending would be given to the proprietor, and Google says it will be giving preference to local bike shops looking to expand.
Commuters would benefit from a resurfacing of the Bay Trail to make it more ridable in winter. There are funds for bike safety classes for kids, a plan to distribute 1,000 bicycle-light kits, and 10 electric bicycles for city employees, among other things.
Other miscellaneous public benefits offered include $250,000 for a new playground to serve the 900 residents of North Bayshore's Santiago Villa mobile home park, $3 million to convert old Mountain View city library offices into children's play rooms, a plaza made available for food truck festivals and outdoor movie nights, $2.25 million for three new city staff positions to help process all of the new real estate development, and a new gazebo and educational storyboard at Shoreline Park.
"There's over 30 acres of new habitat and open space we would add to campus," said Audrey Davenport, Google's ecology project lead. Designers asked, "how can we create a place for Googlers that really connects them to North Bayshore ecology" to create a sort of park-like destination?
Among those efforts would be the widening of Permanente Creek in North Bayshore, with higher banks in case of flooding, and the restoration of marsh lands and burrowing owl habitat.
"What we've tried to do is take a step back and say, 'How do buildings work with nature?'" said Google real estate director David Radcliffe.
It may be hard to believe, but the campus buildings are designed to be publicly accessible, Radcliffe says.
"We really want to try and make spaces open and accessible so it's not just for Googlers but anybody (who) wants to come by," Radcliffe said.
"Google's presence in Mountain View is simply so strong, it can't be the fortress that shuts away the neighbors," architect Heatherwick said. "It really needs to become part of the neighborhood in Mountain View."
Google's proposal states: "Instead of block after block of concrete structure, lightweight structures and open spaces will invite the public and the outdoors in. Visitors and employees alike can walk and ride, not just around but through campus buildings."
Davis told the Voice that the buildings were designed in consideration of the possibility of a large new housing development next door.
"We have been studying the potential locations of housing in North Bayshore nearly as long as we have been advocates," according to Google's proposal documents. "We have intentionally left our holdings on the west side of Shoreline undeveloped to preserve the potential option for housing as a future use."
Google also proposes to spend $900,000 over three years to fund an unnamed ad-hoc group that is working to advocate for affordable housing in Silicon Valley, the documents say.
The proposal describes where Google officials believe housing should go in North Bayshore.
"We also feel that other locations in the Shorebird neighborhood are potentially good residential sites," the proposal says. "These could be located close to existing housing at Santiago Villa, within a quarter-mile walk of transit lines, located along planned bike routes, and in beautiful, park-like settings. Creation of a North Bayshore community will take significant design consideration and we are eager to make that happen."
The proposal also reveals that Google is bidding on the VTA bus yard's site on La Avenida, and would add a new northbound off-ramp onto La Avenida and Inigo Way to help alleviate congestion on Shoreline Boulevard.
The City Council is expected to review the proposals for large North Bayshore office projects, including Google's, in late April.