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July 6, 2006

The Utopian Google Offices

The architecture magazin Metropolis takes a look at Googleplex redesign, how architect Clive Wilkinson managed to create a friendly atmosphere using glass and open space, and how the new design reflects Google's culture.

"Corin Anderson does not work like most of the world: his office is a glass tent, which he shares with two other people. His desk hides behind a complex Rube Goldberg-esque maze, built by Anderson out of a toy called the Chaos Tower, a sort of theme park for marbles. Each day he sits in the midst of figurines, Legos, and stuffed animals, eyes fixed on his computer screen and earphones strapped on, for hours at a stretch."

Designing the building wasn't an easy task, as the designers and the engineers had different ideas. Larry and Sergey were more preoccupied about air flow than the aesthetics.

"The architects came up with a list of 13 different zones and arranged them from hot ("clubhouse": pool table and lounge area) to cold (closed workrooms), depending on the level of interaction they encourage. Each floor of the building was divided into five or six flexible neighborhoods separated by "landmarks," the shared public spaces that are the center of Google life. There are kitchens full of snacks, lounges with pool tables and comfortable seating, and libraries of stacked plywood box shelves filled with books and games that Googlers have brought in from home and based on, Wilkinson says, the idea of the village library as the repository of thought."

The article ends with an interesting conclusion about Google's future:

"Google may not be able to keep information entirely free, but it can still try to create a workplace utopia - a world beyond worlds where everyone is smart, and invention and necessity coexist. The impulse is both beautiful and endlessly arrogant, an adolescent's willful dream. Any utopia in the end is a form of benevolent dictatorship. [...] But the company is being forced into maturity - by the IPO, by the fact that Web pages that don't appear on Google might as well not exist, and by its sheer size, power, and influence."

If a utopia becomes the dictatorship of our dreams, it ends by destroying itself. So the more you allow a utopia to morph into something real, the more you give it the chance to survive, even in an altered form. And that means compromise.

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