Workplace as Landscape - Facebook MPK20
San Francisco, CA, USA | CMG Landscape Architecture | Client: Facebook
An organic design. It connects to the landscape below.
- 2017 Awards Jury
- Chris Guillard, ASLA, Principal-in-charge
- Rayna Deniord, ASLA, Lead Designer & Project Manager
- Lisa Daye, Designer & Job Caption
- Architect: Gehry Partners
- Structural Engineer: Forell Elsesser Engineers
- Civil Engineer: BKF Engineers
- MEP Engineers: PAE Engineers
- Contractors: Level 10 and Valley Crest
- Arborist: SBCA Arborist
On the fringe of San Francisco Bay in Silicon Valley, a marginal postindustrial site is transformed into a vibrant campus where architecture and landscape are integrated in a poetic and purposeful workplace. A dramatic nine-acre rooftop park reveals the synthesis of built and natural systems, fosters connections between employees and their broader environment, and reframes how one thinks about buildings and landscapes. Art, ecology and social spaces are thoughtfully interwoven in a cinematic landscape that overcomes the challenges of a degraded and disconnected site to create a vital and biodiverse environment. Inspired by Facebook’s tradition of walking meetings, employees and visitors are invited to wander on a half-mile loop that meanders through an immersive and seasonally enchanting landscape that engenders a sense of respite and discovery. As the first of several new buildings completed as part of a broader vision for the campus, MPK 20 sets a benchmark for the creation of complex, yet resilient urban ecologies.
A Liminal Site
Located on the edge of San Francisco Bay in Menlo Park, CA, the Facebook Headquarters is situated in a rapidly evolving and liminal landscape. To the north, a sublime expanse of salt flats gives way to the Bay, to the south a rail corridor divides the campus from a single family residential neighborhood. Historically the site was part of tidal wetland systems that defined much of the South Bay. Beginning in the early 1900’s the adjacent bay lands were diked and divided into salt flats for the production of industrial salts. As Silicon Valley grew the fringe between the rail corridor and bay were filled, a new expressway was built, and the site was developed for light industrial and office uses. Several innovative companies occupied the site before relocating in the early 2000’s, leaving an underutilized and brownfield site. The adjacent salt flats were decommissioned in the 1990s, and in the intervening years have become habitat for several endangered species. The result is a complex mosaic of industry, ecology and infrastructure, a postindustrial site that is in many respects marginal, disconnected and unforgiving. The planning and design of the Headquarters and MPK 20 landscape responds to this challenging context with a series of inventive solutions that build on Facebook’s culture to create a vibrant and sustainable workplace.
Workplace as Landscape
As the flagship building at the center of the Headquarters, MPK 20 is part of an iterative campus planning process. Over the past six years, the landscape architect has worked in collaboration with multiple architects and a range of ecologists, engineers, arborists, and soil scientists to remediate, repurpose, and re-envision the site. A series of frameworks guide the development of open spaces, the distribution of amenities and social spaces, campus circulation and mobility, landscape ecology, and hydrological systems. Programming and design strategies reflect the mobility, flexibility, and social interaction that define contemporary technology workplaces and the importance of culture, place, and design to business. The development of the campus will ultimately transform a largely impervious and sterile site into a network of social spaces and landscapes that increase community connectivity, provide public access, and create habitat. Nearly one-third of the 80-acre site will be converted into open spaces that provide ecosystem services.
Integration of Building and Landscape
Conceived as ‘one big room’ MPK 20 is a flexible and open workspace for 2800 employees on one office level with parking set below the structure and an expansive 9-acre roof park above. The beautiful and technically savvy integration of architecture and landscape responds to program and context, maximizing open space, minimizing heat island effects, and significantly reducing and treating stormwater runoff. A series of broad terraces provide breakout spaces and outdoor dining at the office level. Stairs, ramps, and elevators distributed throughout the building provide access to the roof and a series of pop-downs, pop-ups, and sunken gardens animate the landscape and connect it with the interior.
Envisioned as a ‘cultivated wild’, the roof park is a place of respite, a place to wander, discover and connect with nature. The program and design principles inherently reflect Facebook’s culture by creating spaces for un-prescribed experiences. Designed to accommodate walking meetings and casual conversations that are common among employees, the park is organized around a fluid half-mile loop with smaller garden-like paths that weave erratically through planting areas to small meeting nooks and viewpoints. As one moves around the roof, different landscape spaces are encountered – the West Grove and Round House, the Event Lawn, Meadow, East Glade and Café. A series of art installations, shade, and wind screens punctuate the landscape and create comfortable and inviting spaces to gather and socialize.
As with cinematic direction the landscape is choreographed to frame views within and beyond, creating a sequence of immersive experiences that unfold to expansive vistas. Foreground, middle, and borrowed landscapes are carefully composed to heighten the sense of enclosure, and a ha-ha is integrated at the perimeter of the roof to enhance the effect of distance views. Inspired by the dendritic patterns of the adjacent salt flats, the ground plane is based on a fractal-like geometry that supports the cinematic quality of the landscape. Shifts in topography reinforce the pattern and create variety on an otherwise flat roof. Flowing from the ground level up and over the structure, bands of trees bind the site and building together and configure views and rooms. Arranged around the idea of a musical score, bands composed of three to four species blanket the site, speaking to rhythm and seasonality.
Ecological and Botanical Diversity
To build a resilient landscape in a windy, on-structure location, reference sites were considered and cues taken from the drought-tolerant plant communities adapted to the thin soils, erratic drainage, and windswept environments that define coastal bluffs around the Bay Area. Native and adapted species are combined in cultured but ecologically coherent arrangements to provide avian and pollinator habitat. Coastal sage scrub and prairie, needle grass meadow, manzanita and ceanothus gardens, and riparian understory are paired with predominantly native oak species to create a biodiverse and aesthetically rich environment. Working in concert with the Audubon Society, the roof landscape was designed and is being monitored and managed to support breeding, nesting, and foraging. Monthly surveys completed during the establishment of the landscape over the past two years revealed 38 bird species and significant increases in the number of birds as the landscape has emerged. Facebook has hosted several birding events of its own and discussions with employees, and citizen scientists suggest that the ecological and botanical benefits the landscape provides through observation and exposure have their own educational and conservation value.
Technology and Stewardship
The realization of this large and complex landscape is deeply informed by the bridging of design, technology and stewardship. The design is a result of intensive collaboration and technical coordination with the architect, structural and MEP engineers; the scale and schedule dictated an elegant and systemic approach to construction; and establishment, maintenance, and programming required a plan for stewardship and ongoing management. Of particular note is the integration of soils, drainage, and irrigation design. The roof profile was designed to simulate natural drainage and soil conditions by employing a network of primary, secondary, and sub-drainage systems in concert with soils, irrigation design, testing, and production quality control. A maintenance manual was developed to guide the establishment and adaptive management of the landscape over a longer time horizon and the landscape architect continues to monitor the landscape and coordinate with Facebook and landscape maintenance team. The feedback loops and lessons gleaned from ongoing participation in the stewardship of the landscape are invaluable.