The Loma Prietan - November/December 2012

Facebook Plans: Parking below, Park above

by Nafeesa Ahmed

Instead of multi-storied, glassy office buildings and a garage, Facebookâs architects are proposing this innovative one-story design, hiding the parking and sporting a green roof. Photo: courtesy of Facebook
Instead of multi-storied, glassy office buildings and a garage, Facebook’s architects are proposing this innovative one-story design, hiding the parking and sporting a green roof. Photo: courtesy of Facebook

Facebook’s new headquarters near the west end of the Dumbarton Bridge in Menlo Park has an East Campus, where the company will occupy the existing buildings, and a West Campus, where they plan to demolish what’s there and construct from scratch. The architect’s design for the new West Campus, to accommodate 2,800 employees, is innovative and green.

Gita Dev, an architect and member of the Chapter’s Sustainable Land Use Committee, remarks, ”Frank Gehry's preliminary design for Facebook's West Campus on Bayfront Expressway in Menlo Park is a truly inspired approach for a sensitive site adjacent to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.” Since the refuge is home to many threatened species, one of the few habitats worldwide for the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, and on the Pacific Flyway, it was critical to be sensitive to the potential environmental impact of the new campus.

An earlier design for the West Campus looked very much like a typical tech company campus, with multi-storied, glassy office buildings and garage. However, the new plan addresses many environmental concerns raised by that traditional style. In Gehry’s design the office space will all be consolidated into a single-story structure composed of one massive room with no interior walls. It will be sandwiched between a ground level parking lot and a gigantic roof garden with grass, shrubs, short trees, and usable space, possibly similar to the one at California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Gita adds that, “to the birds in the refuge, the green roof could be a soft earthy edge to the refuge—the opposite of the earlier bird-unfriendly proposal of two glass office buildings and a hulking five-story parking structure.” The shorter buildings will minimize bird collisions with their windows (with bird-friendly glass, we hope), and the building edge can be designed to protect wetland habitat wildlife by providing no high perches for birds of prey. A garden roof is a great insulator, increases the energy-efficiency of the structure, and thereby reduces its carbon footprint. And the icing to the cake: it literally provides a breath of fresh air to the employees! One wonders whether somehow this wonderful “open space,” or some part of it, could be an amenity for the neighborhood as the design evolves.

For Andrew Boone, Chapter member, avid bicyclist, and member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, the parking plan has special significance. “Since the parking would not be as visible,” he explains, “it might encourage bicycling and the use of public transit.” He also feels that, “surface parking lots create a hostile environment for cyclists and pedestrians. They waste a lot of space, generate more heat, concentrate pollutants, and provide no opportunity to harvest rainwater. The lack of surface parking at Facebook would be a welcome and an inspiring change.” Boone has been an active bicycle advocate to the city of Menlo Park and the social networking giant. He has been lobbying hard for improved bicycling trails in the peninsula and hopes to see expanded bicycle parking area at the West campus.

Nafeesa Ahmed is a Chapter member and serves on the editorial board of the Loma Prietan newsletter.