A panel of planners hired by Google promised one of the most environmentally friendly office building ever built, with green roofs, man-made wetlands to treat waste-water and ultra-efficient radiant heating and cooling. Lighting will be 100 percent natural light in most rooms, for a 46-percent reduction in energy use and using 80 percent less tap water use than typical buildings.
The campus could house over 3,600 employees and is slated for a 42-acre parcel adjacent to the Bay's wetlands at NASA Ames Research Center, where Google has been a partner in various NASA projects since 2006.
Rather than "completely separate" the building from its surroundings, the design "invites people to come out of their hermetically sealed box and become a part of what's outdoors," said Ryan Mullenix of Ohio-based NBBJ, the architecture firm hired by Google. "We actually call it 'NASA to Nature,'" bridging the industrial side of NASA Ames to the natural side of the wetlands, he said.
Mullenix added that focusing on the surrounding environment was a way to go above and beyond what is usually measured in ratings for green design.
The Audubon Society has blamed development encroaching on the Bay for the sharp decline of the rare burrowing owl, the numbers of which hover around a dozen at Moffett Field and Shoreline Park. A few burrowing owl nesting sites are adjacent to the site and the owls may use the site for foraging, according to a map of owl sites released by NASA last month.
While Google's planners did not mention the burrowing owl in their talk, Google's landscape architect, Cheryl Barton, said planners were working to "enrich the habitat" and "encourage species diversity by bringing the wetland up, in and through the site in terms of infrastructure.
"Planners are working with a wildlife biologist to create nesting structure for bats and swallows to inhabit the site and be comfortable with human beings," she said.
Local Audubon chapter president Bob Power has worked with Google to reduce the project's impacts on the owls, but said he'd prefer it not be built at all.
"We'd prefer that development in the South Bay stop," Powers said. "If we could magic-wand it, we'd roll back the clock 50 years — burrowing owls would be running amok."
Barton said employees would find the campus a quiet, restful place. "On the edge of Bay, the sense of the Bay is profound." Planners want to carry that through the site and create and "appreciation of messiness, beautiful messiness" and "a stewardship of this particular landscape."
She promised that efforts in regards to wildlife would be "beyond protective" and would involve long range monitoring.
Powers said any effort to create nests for birds or burrows for the owls on the site "would be a hopeful environmental solution, certainly not a guaranteed solution. In some areas they seem to be able to deal with human activity. Ideally they would like us to go away, I can tell you that."
To Powers, the bottom line was that encroaching on wildlife habitat was a bad idea.
"Let's do good urban planning and take care of all the empty warehouses and office buildings and maximize what's been built and not do anything unless everybody agrees it's absolutely necessary," Powers said.
In presenting the project, Igoe said the quiet and isolated location would allow "a frictionless environment" for employees who "very much enjoy working on various algorithms" allowing them to focus on the work.
Mountain View City Council members have also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the project. The council has delayed a vote on an automobile bridge over Stevens Creek that would connect it to Google headquarters at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, which Google says is crucial for the project. The project itself is within city limits but outside the authority of the Mountain View City Council, because it is on federally owned property.
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