MOUNTAIN VIEW — Whimsical new plans unveiled by Google to expand its corporate headquarters captivated its hometown city and the world Friday, the latest step by a tech giant to catapult Silicon Valley from tilt-up office dullsville to a region of architectural landmarks.
Drawings of the proposed buildings show an alluring network of translucent, greenhouse-like domes Google describes as an “ultralight membrane” spanning new offices and tree-lined public trails between Highway 101 and the wetlands of San Francisco Bay. Some of the structures will be as movable as furniture. Parking will move underground.
If Google can win over a skeptical Mountain View populace — fascinated by the design but worried about the impact — urban planners say the search company could outdo Apple and Facebook in erecting a stunning new campus that is more than just a tech industry monument.
“We”re watching the future get invented,” said Gabriel Metcalf, CEO of urban advocates SPUR. “The old Silicon Valley model was cheap buildings surrounded by a sea of parking, with the assumption everyone would drive to work. The new model is trying to get most people to work without a car, and creating a place that is interesting and exciting for the employees.”
A Google executive Friday morning dropped off reams of paperwork at Mountain View City Hall detailing the company”s outlandish plans for the North Bayshore technology district, already home to Google”s current headquarters — known as the Googleplex — and dozens of other unremarkable offices occupied by its employees. Many of those offices would be torn down and consolidated.
“Instead of constructing immovable concrete buildings, we”ll create lightweight blocklike structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas,” David Radcliffe, Google”s vice president of real estate, said in a blog post. “Large translucent canopies will cover each site, controlling the climate inside yet letting in light and air.”
Hundreds of pages containing the full details of the plans will not be publicly available until Monday, but the renderings show an ecologically minded project intended to blur the distinction between nature and a massive workplace for thousands of high-tech engineers. A map shows landscaped public walkways coursing around and under the new buildings and a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge crossing 101, a contrast to the fortress-like circular headquarters Apple is building in Cupertino and Frank Gehry”s looming Facebook campus rising in Menlo Park.
But in order to win the city”s approval, the company must show that its vast complex would actually reduce the city”s severe rush-hour traffic problems.
Google had told officials it is adding 10,000 workers “without adding a single parking place,” Metcalf said. “They”re planning for a lower drive-to-work ratio than downtown San Francisco gets.”
Local residents are likely to raise questions about how Google intends to meet its traffic-reducing pledge and how the huge development could reshape the suburban way of life in the small city of 75,000 people.
Google”s plans appear to absorb nearly all of the land in the North Bayshore technology district that the city has allowed for new office development, leaving little room for anyone else.
“Is it really good to be a one-company town?” asked former City Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who was termed out last year after eight years in office. “It”s important to keep diversity in our communities, and that includes companies.”
Friday was the deadline for developers to submit plans for projects for the technology district that could take up a larger footprint than what the city allows. Among the other companies wanting to build new office buildings are social network LinkedIn, which is headquartered nearby, and Microsoft, which plans to tear down and rebuild its Silicon Valley campus and restore the habitat of nearby Stevens Creek.
LinkedIn dropped off its more conventional plan Friday afternoon proposing to raze the Century Cinema off 101 and replace it with a new movie theater, shops and a multistory LinkedIn office. Three commercial real estate firms — Peery Arrillaga, Broadreach and the Sobrato Organization — also submitted separate plans Friday for office buildings, with tenants not yet identified.
But Google”s plans dwarfed the others and promised an upcoming political battle pitting companies against each other to win the 3.4 million square feet allowed for new office development — a number far exceeded by the proposals submitted Friday. To court the city”s approval, the companies will each try to boast of the best community amenities and methods for reducing traffic.
“The council”s been loud and clear, you can”t build a square foot until you show how traffic is going to be improved,” said Randy Tsuda, the city”s community development director. “The public will want to understand how that gets done.”
Abe-Koga said city officials have struggled over the years with accommodating Google, which owns 83 separate parcels of land and employs about 19 percent of the city”s workforce, most of whom commute from elsewhere by car, train, bicycle or the company”s fleet of more than 100 luxury buses.
“Early on, they came out very aggressive and, frankly, we had to say no to some things,” Abe-Koga said. “They”re learning to be more cooperative, but they have a pretty clear direction. They want to do things their way.”
Contact Matt O”Brien at 408-920-5011. Follow him at Twitter.com/Mattoyeah.