OK, let's pretend that you haven't read the title of this blog (or looked at the first picture) and see if you can guess what sort of building this describes: "It's all about human beings and that's it! Think sunken snugs, comfort, fun, comfy slippers, squishy carpets, cushions, daybeds, nice fresh food, gardening, vegetables, health, visual stimulation, relaxation, exercise, fresh air and you'll get what it's all about... So, a luxurious spa? A new type of holiday retreat? A high-end old people's home? Given that the building also contains an area called 'granny's flat', you'd be forgiven for thinking so."
That description comes from Lee Penson, founder of one of Europe's leading interior design firms, Penson, who says the brand-spanking-new Covent Garden HQ they designed, is no less a powerhouse than Google.
I won't lie - working for Google would be pretty much like hitting the jackpot, in my book. The company itself aside, these pictures show a dream environment for creatives and techies alike. One of the clients I currently work for is based in a converted warehouse (not the cool kind - the "it still looks like an old factory" kind) in a depressingly grey industrial estate near Acton. The closest eatery is the white-tiled, prison-barred Bridge Cafe, where the disgruntled "apprentices" from the famed BBC show all gather to chastise each other over mugs of tea before one of them gets fired by Alan Sugar. It's enough to make everyone take their own sandwiches to work every day and play solitaire on the computer during the lunch hour.
By contrast, Googlers go to work in Nirvana/Mecca/Heaven/Utopia every day. Judging by the photos, I imagine a typical conversation to go something like this:"Hey, isn't it great to hang out at Google HQ, man?! Take a load off, whip your Macbook out and let's get creative. Oh, but how about a game of table tennis first? No, wait, it's a bit stuffy in here. Let's go up to the allotments on level nine and see how our prize-winning marrows are coming along; then we can chat while we top up the top soil. Oh, raining? Never mind, let's go and sprawl in the armchairs in the woolly living room and toss around some ideas...before we sit down to a gourmet lunch in our funky cafeteria. Hey, we must make sure we're on time for the meeting in our in-house hi-tech Town Hall, though... But nah, you're right: maybe there is time for a massage in the spa before we go to the meeting..."
But working for such a superbrand as Google, you can bet they do get the work done, though. Within the 150,000-square foot megaplex, there are 1,250 desks and 1,250 meeting chairs or "collaboration seats." But Penson's design certainly wasn't about chucking a load of money at a project from bottomless coffers; far from it. In fact, the very reverse is true. It is "eco-massive," much of the material being reclaimed or recycled - such as the ceiling tiles, complying with Google's own Red List - and uses timber floors with eco plywood perimeters. Contractors Parkeray worked with the team to research how their Red List could conform to the "Living Building Challenge" and help provide a healthy workplace. And helping Google's eco-warrior workforce to be even more enviro-cool, there's a "bikedry" area, meaning they can hang their bike gear when they arrive at work so that they're all nice and fresh for their return commute.
Penson's design is all done with a wink and a healthy dose of fun. Like the submarine-style "noise-tight" doors with "do not turn to open" on them. I particularly like the idea of the Secret Gardens, connected to Google Park with intimate private booths in a sun-trapped balcony space. Each booth seats four people privately, hedged in - literally - to provide a private and windless workspace. What better place to work with your laptop on a summer's day?
Naturally there is a fair amount of hi-tech wizardry going on, as you'd expect. The Town Hall, for instance, which seats 200 people, has a massive video wall with exceptional hi-fi capabilities and spectacular acoustics - all surrounded by lush velvet curtains. And from the lush to the minimalist - check out this green sound booth-style meeting room:
Lee Penson sums up his company's extraordinary design: "Think efficient spaces for efficient Googlers wrapped up into a commercial property solution that ticks all of the fun and practical boxes. Its commercialism is there for all organisations to see that the Google stereotype is not in throwing money at it, it's about designing your heart out with a 'normalish' budget."
Even if I don't hit the jackpot and end up working there, I might write to Google HQ and ask if I can book myself in for a week's holiday...
Ashley Morrison is a blogger, copywriter and editor.
Thanks to Lee Penson, CEO of PENSON, and PR agency Cherrill Scheer & Associates for the background information and images.