Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studio—the same design firms working on Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters—are now moving ahead on the company’s new London offices. Unlike most of Google’s buildings, this one will be vertical—a 10-story structure that the two firms describe as a cross between a Silicon Valley startup garage and a London train shed.
“We’ve tried to create an interestingness that fits the scale and the community of King’s Cross,” the two firms noted in a statement released this week, of a project they say “couples clarity with eccentricity and anchors innovation with heritage.”
Google wouldn’t let the design firms comment directly, but a massing model released by BIG shows a wedge-shaped building that abuts John McAslan’s lacy, semi-circular addition to the King’s Cross train station’s Western Concourse. In recent years a massive redevelopment has transformed King’s Cross, on London’s North Side, into a burgeoning urban hub that includes 50 new buildings, 10 new parks, and 30,000 new residents. It’s a central part of London’s so-called Knowledge Quarter, which includes 75 research and innovation organizations within a mile radius of King’s Cross.
BIG and Heatherwick’s new edifice will be Google’s first purpose-built structure outside the United States. (The company often reuses existing structures.) It joins a growing Google campus at King’s Cross, which will eventually include three offices and house 7,000 employees in more than 1 million square feet of space.
And like most of Google’s buildings, it’ll likely be designed to keep those employees around as long as possible. A scrapped plan for the site by London-based AHMM featured rooftop gardens meant to encourage employee lounging, eating, and relaxation. An interior rendering of the new office shows a multi-level, open work space warmed by wood walls, internal plantings, and natural light.
Google has at times struggled to fit into new neighborhoods, its force of money and culture overwhelming its locality and driving up rents. It’s hard to say what impact it will have on this rapidly evolving part of London, but it’s tempting to look to Heatherwick’s other King’s Cross development, Coal Drops Yard, for clues. The firm transformed the former coal yard into a canal-side shopping area by stitching together two 19th century buildings by their curved, gabled roofs. This respect for history, combined with an audacious willingness to create something utterly new, is likely to be echoed in BIG and Heatherwick’s plans for Google. Both design firms are experts at nailing a place’s aesthetic. Whether they can do the same for its culture remains to be seen.
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