The Monuments of Tech

Last week, the New York Times probed the rising trend among big internet companies to construct “workplaces that memorialize their products and values.” Gone are the nostalgic days of Silicon Valley companies “building world-changing technologies from the humble garage, or the nondescript office park.” Instead, tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple and Amazon are seeking to craft workplaces that “fuse their values of speed, change and productivity with their perceived corporate smarts and quirkiness.”

image                                                   Image: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

In most cases, these personalized workplaces subscribe to the common design trend of open plan office environments. This workplace type is not only suited for fluctuating office teams and sizes, but also helps move “work and information as quickly as possible” – a quality particularly suited to fast-moving tech companies.

By injecting their “ethos” into the design of their workplaces, tech companies have begun to create not “just offices… [but] monuments.”

Facebook’s Menlo Park, CA headquarters is one example, boasting a “Disney-like” design modeled after “Main Street, USA.” At Facebook, there are no permanent offices as employees are often moved around based on “new short-term projects.” Such elements as plywood boards hanging from the ceiling provide the space with a “visual ‘under construction’ reference meant to reinforce the company’s ethos.” Considering that doors act as an “impediment, slowing the making of something new,” the open plan office is designed to “change thinking” and inspire creativity.  

Twitter’s San Francisco office also uses its architecture to influence employees, with quirky design elements – like the front desk computer housed “inside a faux birdhouse” and nest-like twigs on walls – that reference the company’s iconic logo. Informal meetings often take place in the @birdfeeder cafeteria, in the hopes that “this low-stress setting… will help foster new ideas.”

All of the design decisions and uses of these tech offices are in service to the idea that “nothing is permanent, that any product can be dislodged from greatness by something newer. It’s the aesthetic of disruption: We must all change, all the time.” The flexibility and utility of open plan offices is particularly suited to this type of disruption and temporality that defines the tech industry.