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Google may dream in the manner of a Californian, but it has mostly lived like a New Yorker. For years, the tech giant’s Mountain View headquarters sat on leased property, the corporate equivalent of a rented pad downtown. On moving in, Google did something like a spackle-and-paint job (a costly interior renovation, in 2005), and tried to make the place its own (the famous multicolored bikes). Yet even as the company grew, the Googleplex remained appropriated space, shaped by the architecture of its last inhabitant, Silicon Graphics. Microsoft and Apple built much of their homesteads from the ground up; Google, like the Greenwich Village resident who turns a nonworking fireplace into an ingenious wine rack, made do with the space as it came.
The company didn’t actually purchase its ’Plex until 2006. By that point, it had started to find crash pads elsewhere—in New York, it inhabits the massive former Port Authority Building—and expansion seemed to draw its attention away from home. It wasn’t until the late in the past decade that Google began treating its vast Silicon Valley property as a long-term project. On a home-improvement kick, it installed a huge array of solar panels, and worked intensely on the landscaping. Today, the campus includes scores of buildings of various scales, radiating out from the original core. It sits on twenty-six acres of bay-adjacent land, which Google has at times maintained with the aid of two hundred goats.
For years, the company has also hoped to do what every rich homeowner cresting into middle age does: build an addition. Google’s recent ideal was a new annex campus jointly designed by the architecture firms of Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels. The facility would center on four sprawling agglomerations of office and leisure space, each housed under a massive, biodome-like glass skin. Ramps instead of stairs would make the buildings bike-friendly; modular offices could be picked up and moved around, like shipping containers, by a giant robotic crane. […]