Google offices may have slides, climbing walls, and basketball courts, but that doesn’t mean they’re all fun and games. “I think that the assumptions are very surface level,” Joshua Bridie, Google’s director of global interior design, tells AD. Movies like The Internship and videos of Google spaces show viewers an incomplete picture. YouTube stars often do tours at the tech companies’ homes around the world to offer a glimpse into how it is to work at places like Google or Facebook. They always offer a different adjective when discussing the company’s offices—colorful, playful, animated—but the most important term isn’t shown: intentional.
Google’s 24-year legacy of creating user-friendly products has influenced their office spaces. “Each one of those buildings is a statement about our values, our belief, and our ethos,” Michelle Kaufmann, director of research and development for the built environment at Google, says. “You’re provided with different opportunities to be introspective.” The jungle-gym-like elements that Google offices are known for have been intentionally placed so that people can refocus. “It’s like candy for the brain,” Bridie adds.
AD takes you inside some of Google’s world-renowned workspaces in this article. The look and feel of these notable spaces is informed by many factors, as shown below.
Whether designing a ground-up building or renovating an existing one, the goal of Google offices is longevity and timelessness. “We think about every office very similarly, which is ‘how can we make a building that is functional and vibrant for hopefully centuries?'” Kaufmann says. Unaware of what the future will bring, the company opted to look to the past in order to accomplish this ambitious task. “It turns out there were five main common properties,” Kaufmann explains: high ceilings, double-height space, access to daylight, long span between columns, and exposed structure. These design skeletal bones define any Google space – even if they are very different on the outside.
Google has always had a strong belief in the power of design. This belief stems from the core idea that Google’s spaces should be designed to inspire creativity, collaboration, and community. These same core beliefs are reflected in Google’s Pier 57 office in New York. Large windows offer incredible views of the Hudson River, while neighborhoods unite teams near open floor plans. Multiple cafés and informal meeting spaces allow room for relaxation as well as conversation and fostering new ideas.
Google’s Bay View campus is their first completed ground-up project. The company explains, “We had always been in existing buildings, and it’s only really been in the past five to seven years that we’ve actually been designing ground-up buildings for ourselves.” With a tent-like ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the building, the Bay View campus is easily one of the most unique offerings in Google’s real estate portfolio. Additionally, it demonstrates Google’s commitment to sustainability. Kaufmann states, “We have this crazy, audacious goal of being carbon neutral by 2030 on a 24/7 basis with all of our buildings, including data centers.” The Bay View campus exemplifies many strategies that Google plans to implement to achieve this environmental goal.
Google’s sustainability efforts go way beyond the basics. Instead of following the status quo of recycled materials, Google designers focus on creating exciting and beautiful experiences for employees as well as the Earth. One example: at the Bay View building, solar panels on the roof mimic a dragon’s scale in an eye-catching and original way, while a landscaped retention pond acts as an on-site wastewater treatment center. “Thinking about sustainability from a user-first perspective is our unique approach,” Kaufmann says.
One of the things Google takes a lot of pride in is how their offices aren’t identical. They want each office to be its own space instead of just mimicking what’s done in every other office. Bridie explains that this usually happens by leaning into the design vernacular from the home region. For instance, if it’s an office located in Atlanta, he’ll make sure to include music references on one of the walls with cassette tapes coming from locals and Georgia artists. He wants to capture that local experience in a really creative way.
Designers create an office to be unique, but it’s the individual who occupies it that makes the space distinctive. “I love when people don’t like what they see,” Bridie says. “It just means that they took on a space and made it their own.”
“Still, despite the purposeful designs, what truly makes each office unique is the people who move in. “Sometimes the spaces that resonate the least with me become the most popular with the Googlers,” Bridie says. “There are some things that might make design professionals uncomfortable, but I celebrate because it truly means that they now feel like they own the space, and that, to me, is success.””