The Transport Network? Facebook Ponders Urban Design
Tomorrow, Facebook is hosting a “design charrette,” inviting more than 100 architects and other design professionals to engage in a fast-paced, collaborative planning session to envision infrastructure upgrades to areas surrounding Facebook’s new campus. The company announced on Tuesday that it would be moving its corporate headquarters from Palo Alto to Menlo Park, an area in the San Francisco Bay Area known for its venture capital and technology-focused companies.
The all-day event, dubbed “Creating a Sense of Place,” is open to the public and is being coordinated with the City of Menlo Park and the San Mateo County chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The meeting will give people a chance to brainstorm about four different elements of the new neighborhood: 1) existing businesses, 2) the perimeter of the campus, 3) the area northwest of the campus (also owned by Facebook), and 4) nearby housing options. Shuttles will carry teams of designers on a tour of the surrounding area before they begin their “charrette”—a term that originates from French architecture school. They will then spend the afternoon incorporating feedback from public participants into their own plans and present refined proposals at the end of the day.
According to Noemi Avram, a spokeswoman for AIA San Mateo County, as told to Silicon Valley Mercury News:
“The emphasis will be on creating an inviting and vibrant residential and business area. The goal of the charrette is to begin a community dialogue. The design concepts that emerge from that charrette will be widely circulated. It’s very likely that these ideas will have a significant impact on the development of this area of Menlo Park for many years to come.”
What a great opportunity to discuss sustainable urban mobility!
The 12-hour meeting will be held at the former headquarters of Sun Microsystems, a 57-acre, nine-building campus. Sources familiar with the company culture are saying tomorrow’s planned session will be similar to Facebook’s infamous all-night coding sessions, known as “hackathons.”
When Facebook moves to the corner of Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, Mayor Rich Cline said he would like to see more affordable housing, “and retail, grocery stores, restaurants and pubs in the area that are lit up; wider sidewalks, and a town feel for the community.”
Other proposals could include “new building height limits, increased density or expanded mass transit routes.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Facebook doesn’t plan to change much about the exterior or parking at the complex, but it does plan to convert an interior courtyard into something that feels like an urban main street, perhaps even with local business storefronts.”
Facebook’s decision to move was spurred by its recent hiring spree, adding to a workforce that totals more than 2,000 people. The new campus can accommodate 3,600 workers and has parking for 3,700 cars, though, apparently 40 percent of employees carpool or take mass transit to work, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
From a transport perspective, it would be nice to see an interconnected network of trails for pedestrians and bicyclists, especially along the wetlands at the perimeter of the campus. And there would be great potential to use online social networking as a way to jumpstart a new bike- or car-sharing program for the residents of Menlo Park (discounted for Facebook employees, of course, to encourage them to live nearby.) The company could also make efforts to create more green spaces around the campus, host car-free days, and use the power technology and mobile data collection to identify ways to alleviate traffic congestion.
As AIA spokesperson Avram says, “This is about connection. This is not about Facebook building some central courtyard on campus. This is about how to better integrate all the surrounding properties in such a way that there is better use.”
The first group of employees is scheduled to re-locate sometime in June or July. We hope they enjoy their new home, which is under a 15-year lease, but we also hope their neighbors enjoy it even more!
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities works to make urban sustainability a reality. Global research and on-the-ground experience in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey and the United States combine to spur action that improves life for millions of people.