“We’re a culture of builders,” Janelle Gale, Facebook’s VP of Human Resouces, says in a new video promoting the company’s lavish new office in Menlo Park, California. Gale believes that the recently completed piece of architecture accurately reflects the kind of culture that Facebook has built. We agree.
For years, Facebook has worked with starchitect Frank Gehry to design its offices around the world. On Tuesday, the social network unveiled its freshly constructed office, MPK 21. “All the things we learned doing Building 20 prepared us for Building 21,” Gehry says in a slick video included with a blog post about his latest masterpiece. “We were getting lessons in Facebook culture. And we’re making a new kind of architecture within that culture.”
Looking at the images Facebook shared, you might think that this is a fairly typical, over-the-top design for Gehry.
The 89-year-old architect is revered for buildings like the Gugghenheim Bilbao, a museum designed to be as unique on the outside as the art that’s housed on the inside. But his work for high-dollar corporate clients can lean towards concepts that seem to only be there because he can get away with it.
Being located in Northern California, it makes a certain amount of sense that MPK 21 incorporates redwood trees throughout its spacious open office setting.
But as you see more images of the building, things feel chaotic and haphazard, rather than peaceful and integrated.
Here's a first look inside Facebook's new Frank Gehry-designed office https://t.co/4lVfGsF59n
— Bloomberg (@business) September 4, 2018
Bloomberg got an in-depth peek at the building and its interior that’s worth checking out in full. It shows off a design that’s just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Clean, vibrant, aged and unfinished materials all mix in a smorgasbord of design trends, and lines go in every direction without any apparent purpose. There are many examples of the building resembling a pile of stuff that just fell together and is hanging by a thread, but none are more illustrative than this:
— Silvia Killingsworth (@silviakillings) September 4, 2018
Yup, that’s just, you know, the exposed frame of an office with some random boards on top. Odd details like this are found throughout the space. With captions like, “the main corridor runs down the middle of the building,” it’s hard to shake the feeling that Bloomberg was just as unimpressed as we are.
Chaos is the word for it, it’s as simple as that. And if Facebook wanted to reflect its own culture and what its people work to build, chaos is the right approach. One might think it’s a bit weird to unveil a multi-million dollar office space on the same that day that a fresh expose of its platform’s disastrous effects in the Philippines is published. One might think it wise to hold off on bragging about the “tremendous scale” the building’s auditorium offers while Facebook opines that it’s just really difficult to scale-up content moderation operations in Myanmar in order to prevent genocide. One might think, hey, maybe you should wait until tomorrow’s Congressional hearing is over before you show off this modern monstrosity. But that’s just how Facebook rolls.
Contrast MPK 21 with Apple’s famous spaceship headquarters and the contrast of corporate cultures comes into relief. Steve Jobs was reportedly a huge control freak during its development, obsessing over every detail. When it opened, its glass surfaces were so invisible that employees were getting injured as they smacked into them. That’s the most Apple thing ever. When Apple released an invite with the distinctive ring silhouette of its HQ, reporters immediately started speculating what it might mean. Whether or not its a clue to something larger, it also definitely means come to our building that looks like this and we’ll show you some new Apple shit. Facebook isn’t even close to having that kind of clarity when it comes to its company. But the Apple invite format would still work pretty well:
Left: Apple’s September 12 event invitation. Right: What a Facebook invitation to its new offices might look like, if it did that sort of thing.