PENSON creates its fourth office for Google, coming up with another unique design that meets the search-engine giant’s criteria of offering something to lure in the best in the business
Size: 4,000 sq m
Completion time: 28 weeks
While Google may have lost a few popularity points of late (along with Starbucks and Amazon), the global search-engine provider is still committed to making itself one of the world's most desirable companies to work for. Recruiting and retaining the brightest and best is seen as integral to Google's success, and one way the company does this is to provide its employees with workplaces quite unlike any other.
Designed by London-based architecture practice PENSON, one of the company's latest offices - a hub for Google's technology engineers on the third floor of its HQ in the city's Victoria area - has all the fun and creativity you'd expect. But as you also may expect, Google is good at getting a high level of creativity without breaking the bank.
'The budget is effectively medium to good,' says PENSON founder Lee Penson. 'It's less than, say, a bank or insurance company would spend on its corporate office. It's a sensible, very reasonable level of spend, but really it's the elbow grease that we've put into the design and detailing that brings out the value and the look.'
This is the fourth office PENSON has designed for Google, so the PENSON designers know a thing or two about what Google wants from the design of its workplaces and the kind of design features have been popular in the past. 'Flight pods', for example - free-standing meeting rooms with built-in whiteboards that PENSON developed for Google's first Victoria office - have been updated and given a theme of retro video games, with graphics taken from classic arcade games including Tron and Defender. Penson says these rooms have better acoustics than in their previous incarnation, and more whiteboard space.
The flight pods are given an eclectic mix of furniture, including Togo Relax chairs by Ligne Roset and the Annie Shopping Trolley Chair by Day 2 Interiors, and homely rugs, which make them feel more like a living room than part of a corporate office.
PENSON knows that Google is not conservative by nature, and so there are plenty of new features here too. One new idea is a quiet space called The Cog, so named because on the architectural plans of the building the space resembles a cog, with a central circular area with separate rooms branching off like teeth. Each of these rooms is about the size of a double bed and is, says PENSON, perfect for chilling out or private working. Mobile phone signals are jammed in this area so those using it are free from phone calls and texts as well as from the ringing and beeping of other people's devices.
PENSON says the office is designed to offer a 'sliding scale' of areas, ranging from spaces for total solitude through to full-on group collaboration and everything in between.
Many of the Googlers (Google's own name for its staff) use laptops, so it was important for PENSON to design a range of spaces suitable for both work and play.
Despite the often peripatetic working practices of the Googlers, Google and PENSON decided that each of the 230 Googlers who work on this floor should have a desk of their own. PENSON worked with furniture company Elite to modify an existing product, Linnea Elevate, so that it is fully height adjustable, allowing the Googlers to work standing up if they choose - a practice that's encouraged by the company. Central shelves between the desks are designed for the storage and display of personal items and also - as they are fixed - help the area retain an ordered, unified look when the desks are sitting at different heights.
In the main work areas, a colour palette of blue, red and grey echoes the theme of retro computer games seen in the meeting rooms. PENSON used mostly water-based paint finishes and recycled material in the scheme - in part because both it and Google were keen to make the project environmentally friendly, but also because these finishes and materials fit well within the budget. In some of the corridors recycled seat belts and scaffold poles have been used to create one-off details.
Lee Penson says the Googlers are thrilled by this office, and he believes that the success of the project lies in the versatility of its design and that it looks so different to other offices. 'It has the variation in areas that can be used in any way; it's just the detailing of it, and I think really works because it's not too literal in terms of its styling,' he says. 'It's quite difficult to label in terms of its styling, and that's what we want as a studio. Because that then pushes design forwards: it's not corporate, it's not commercial, it's not media, it's something else. That's what design should be about.' Words by Jamie Mitchell
Signage and manifestation: Castleton The Sign Company
Finishes and fabrics: