Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have a love of space, but their latest venture with America's space agency is about breaking ground on Earth. Google has signed a long-term lease to build a major new campus at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
The new campus may take up as much as 1.2 million square feet and will house offices, research and development facilities, housing, recreation and even retail. The initial lease price is $3.66 million a year.
Construction is slated to start in 2013 and take as long as a decade to fully complete. "We've always had a need for space and we're planning to be in Silicon Valley for many years to come," said Google spokesperson Andrew Pederson. "This lease is a key part of that strategy."
In another era the plan would sound like a company town, with employees living, working and shopping in a company-owned complex. But this is Silicon Valley in the 21st century, where issues of housing affordability and traffic congestion are key and the concept of employees being able to work, live and even shop on-site is winning praise.
"With the prohibitive cost of housing in Silicon Valley, the nearest affordable housing is 50 to 60 miles away. With the rising cost of gas, it's hard to plan for growth when the costs of just getting to and from work keep rising," said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, in a telephone interview.
Despite years of talk about building public transit in the region, little has been done to alleviate the issues. "This is thinking a little more creatively about moving employees closer to work," King said. "Google is taking a fresh view on making working in Silicon Valley more affordable ... it's a very cool thing for the company to do."
Lenny Siegel, a local environmentalist who has criticized a deal that let Google's corporate jet use the Moffett Field air facility at Ames, agreed. "That's the kind of thing people in the community wanted to see: mixed-use and high-tech," Siegel told the San Jose Mercury News.
By providing "high-quality, affordable" housing, the company hopes to attract top-flight talent, Pederson said. It's likely that housing will be very green. The master plan for the complex, obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle via a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 13 buildings scattered around a plaza with a basketball court. The plan was created by William McDonough + Partners, a Virginia architectural firm known for environmentally friendly buildings.
"I would expect it to leverage everything from solar to grid water usage" and many other green building technologies, King said. "They could really use this as a kind of living experiment for how to create sustainable housing. Whatever they come up with will be very interesting."