Google's vision for a futuristic campus of bubble buildings hasn't popped. The search-engine company last week unveiled plans to bring what could be the first of its sensational dome-shaped buildings to a little-discussed property known as Charleston East.
The 18.6-acre site, located at the corner of Charleston Road and Shoreline Boulevard, has long been in the Google's sights for a future expansion. For years, the company has leased the property from the city of Mountain View with plans to someday build a 595,000-square-foot office building.
"We always knew they had the entitlements to build there," said Mayor John McAlister. "I guess they figured now was the time to do it."
The Charleston East property wasn't part of the equation last month at a marathon city meeting when Google and several other high-profile companies each made pitches for future office expansions. At the time, city leaders were deciding how to best divvy up 2.2 million square feet in bonus development rights in North Bayshore. In anticipation of the decision, Google promoted its ambitious plans as a glimpse of the future: a glass-canopied office park with crane-like robots and changeable interiors.
Nevertheless, the company came up short, securing rights for only one of its four proposed sites. Meanwhile, rival LinkedIn emerged with about two-thirds of the available space.
The setback for Google left many wondering what the impact would be for the company's ambitious campus plans and if the bubble-dome idea was still alive. But city officials say the company already had clearance to develop Charleston East prior to the meeting.
Over the last few weeks, Google representatives quietly began discussing options for the site with city planning officials. The company submitted its preliminary plans for Charleston East to the city on Friday, signaling that site would likely be its first of its signature domed buildings to be developed.
If approved, the dome building would be Google's first major new construction project in Mountain View. So far, the company has primarily modified existing buildings or leased buildings from other firms, said Mountain View's deputy development director, Terry Blount.
"As you can imagine, the plans are huge," said Blount. "It would definitely be the first of the buildings they own of this style and type."
Google's vision to build clusters of office buildings under a translucent tent generated worldwide attention, and the new plans submitted to the city last week shed more light on how this unconventional design would function.
Architects Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick describe the canopy as a glass "skin" held up by a cable-net structure and equipped with solar sensors that can strategically shade areas and harvest energy. Acting like a tent, the canopy would provide a controlled climate inside, giving architects freedom to open up walls, windows and roofing. Inside, the builders envision three separate clusters of "light, tactile and flexible" buildings that can be reconfigured based on the company's whims. Those building clusters would go up as high as three stories while underneath there would be two levels of underground parking.
At several places in the plans, architects note a public "green loop" pathway would cut through this tented space, allowing visitors to step inside. Some areas would apparently remain off-limits, and an overview layout shows five security checkpoints controlling access to sections within the dome.
The qualities of these plans are certain to be a major discussion topic in Mountain View in the coming months. For city staff, the design presents a particular challenge because it is so unique and unconventional, Blount said. He pointed out that the city this year hired two additional planners in anticipation of reviewing large-scale projects in North Bayshore.
"There's nothing really like this anywhere," he said. "We'll certainly hear a lot more from the public and decision makers when this project goes to design review."
Google's lease with the city for the Charleston East site originated in 2007. The deal that the city later hashed out gave Google control of the property through the year 2064. In exchange, the company prepaid $30 million to Mountain View. The lease also specified an "accelerated" timeline for how any proposed development at Charleston East would move through the planning-review process, Blount said.
The plans remain at the very beginning of the review process, noted senior planner Stephanie Williams. After city staff give informal feedback, Google would be asked to submit a formal application that would go through a design review process. No specific timeline was available yet, she said.