Facebook’s New Campus Is For The Birds

The social media company wants to build a second campus in Menlo Park that migratory birds can use as a temporary habitat.

Whereas some buildings create hazards for birds, Facebook’s new workspace will give them a place to roost, said Craig Webb, architect with Gehry Partners LLP. 

Webb and his team are working with Mark Zuckerberg to design a space that will be built with the latest techniques in sustainable architecture – if the city approves the development agreement for the Facebook West Campus Project.

“It will be an iconic, cutting edge facility,” Webb told Menlo Park City Council members on Oct. 30 during a public hearing.

“As people drive past, they will be able to see glints of light that shine through the trees to create a bit of sparkle,” he said, pointing to a miniature model of the proposed building that stood in front of him. The building itself was almost undetectable. Trees were planted all over the roof.

The city previously entertained the idea of putting a GM car dealership onto the land at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, an act that would have given the city a steady stream of sales tax revenue. Facebook acquired the land about 11 months ago.

Since then, Menlo Park city officials have been negotiating ways that Facebook can benefit the city, given that the company does not have a traditionally taxable product. The company innovated a solution that could create multiple benefits to the Menlo Park-Atherton community.  Not all are fiscal.

Facebook’s architects envision a 73-foot tall building with a revolutionary design that would “act as a tribute to the urban landscape,” Webb said. 

This would be the first time that his team has planted a full canopy of trees onto a building this size.

“While the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is two acres, this is 10 acres,” he said. “We have never done anything of this extent.”

Gehry Partners LLP designed that space, as well as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The environment in Menlo Park also poses a challenge.  The land upon which the building will be erected is in a liquefaction zone. During an earthquake the top layer of soil on that plot of land would adopt properties normally associated with fluid. The roof needs to be able to sustain the weight of about 150 trees, even in an earthquake, and the four feet of soil that they need to survive.

Architects are evaluating different foundation systems right now to meet that need. The leading option is to place the building on more than 3,000 pylons that will be embedded 85 feet into the ground.  

“It looks promising,” Webb said.

The new space will not only be able to accommodate about 2,800 new Facebook employees, but also the migratory songbirds that travel through the area.

“This is becoming more important in terms of maintaining migratory songbirds in America,” Webb said. “Buildings create hazardous conditions; birds fly into them,” he said.  

Webb is talking to members of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club to learn what types of trees he should plant. They are also discussing what type of soil mix would be appropriate for the region.

The proposal was received warmly.  who is on the development agreement negotiation team with Council Member Rich Cline, said the building was “beautiful.”

“How fabulous is it that Menlo Park can have a Frank Gehry designed building,” Keith said.

Council Member Kelly Fergusson lauded the project. “The trees really do hide the visual intrusiveness of those towers. That was a creative solution,” she said.

The goal of Tuesday’s city council meeting was to give city staff direction on defining parameters for the development agreement that Facebook is negotiating with the city. If the city does approve the contract, Facebook would pay Menlo Park $4.5 million to fund Below Market Rate housing projects. 


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Alan Dale Brown October 31, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Vanessa - I'm curious: do you know if the public would be allowed to walk across the campus once it's built, or will it be entirely private? Or will the public have access to a small part? It just seems that it would be a very cool place to walk, although normally I would expect it be treated as private property.
Vanessa Castañeda November 01, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Alan, that hasn't been decided yet. Last night, that exact question was asked. It's a private company, so the execs may decide to close it off to the public for security reasons.
Alan Dale Brown November 01, 2012 at 03:17 PM
It would be very nice if they had some public access; many during daylight hours at some park-like portion. If it were my responsibility, I'd honestly be concerned about security. It needn't be anything more than a trail along the edge - like the eastern campus. Maybe stick a Facebook sign there, for tourists to pose in front of - the current sign causes a bit of a safety hazard, because there's no safe place for tourists to cross to get in front of it for their "thumbs-up" pose. Maybe a public Facebook store next to a trail. The payback to Facebook would be a nice bit of PR.
Vanessa Castañeda November 01, 2012 at 04:25 PM
It would also be a nice payback to the city of Menlo Park. If FB opened a store, it would have to charge sales tax on FB merch. It would probably do really well, given how many people use the service worldwide.


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