If Facebook designed a physical community, what would it look like?
Facebook is relocating its corporate headquarters from upscale Palo Alto to the decidedly more gritty, blue-collar community of Belle Haven in Menlo Park. And their design plan, from the sounds of it, involves knitting the campus (formerly a cloistered compound that housed Sun Microsystems) more closely into the surrounding community—physically and socially.
That process began this past Saturday with an “urban planning hack-a-thon.” Ryan White of Fast Company’s Co.Design participated, and he writes of the experience:
“Some 150 architects, designers, and students forfeited their Saturday and wired in for a 12-hour draft-a-thon that produced a bevy of ideas for connecting the isolated Facebook campus with the surrounding community and adjacent wetlands, as well as suggestions for redeveloping the area with better transit, denser mixed-use housing, and lively retail and business districts. …
“Facebook says it wants to change the fortress vibe and embrace the community. So to kick things off on Saturday, designers took morning bus tours of the adjacent Belle Haven neighborhood — several dozen local residents came along to lend their thoughts — and then broke into Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green teams. Teams of 20 to 40 each rolled up their T-shirts and began cranking out as many hand sketches and digital models as they could before an after-dinner deadline: a show-your-work presentation before a packed assembly of fellow architects, Facebook reps, Menlo Park city officials, and a sprinkling of nearby residents. The day’s mission, as Norman tells it: ‘creating a sense of community’ — or perhaps, more to the point, to create a larger sense of community, one that very conspicuously features Facebook. …
“Designers repeatedly sought ways to transform the area immediately adjoining the Facebook campus into a dynamic ‘hub’ of restaurants, retail and transit, a kind of physical manifestation of the company’s reputation for knitting people together.”
Readers of this blog will have already noted the myriad political, zoning and funding obstacles that stand in Facebook’s way—welcome to our world—and indeed Menlo Park’s mayor is anticipating loud, contentious opposition when the design concepts are presented at the next City Council meeting.
Undoubtedly it will be years before the fullness of the plan is realized, and many of the project’s rough edges (rough in a good sense, as in creating traction, not splinters) will be sanded down along the way. Such is the reality of urban redevelopment.
But when the world’s largest cultivator of digital community turns its attention to the physical realm, we should all be watching their progress with great interest.
And rooting for them to succeed.
[ NB: the rendering above is one of multiple concepts generated at the charrette, not the actual plan. ]