How the tech giants are employing top architects to build spectacular symbols of their immense global power
We know by now that the internet is a giant playpen, a landscape of toys, distractions and instant gratification, of chirps and squeaks and bright, shiny things plus, to be sure, ugly, horrid beasties lurking in all the softness apparently without horizon. Graphics rounded corners, lower case, Googles primary colours, Twitters birdie, Facebooks shades of blue enhance the innocence and infantilism. It is a world, as Jonathan Franzen once said, so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self. Until we chance on the bars of the playpen and find that there are places we cant go and that it is in the gift of the grown-ups on the other side to set or move the limits to our freedom.
Were talking here of virtual space. But those grown-ups, the tech giants, Apple, Facebook, Google and the rest, are also in the business of building physical billion-dollar enclaves for their thousands of employees. Here too they create calibrated lands of fun, wherein staff offer their lives, body and soul, day and night, in return for gyms, Olympic-sized swimming pools, climbing walls, basketball courts, running tracks and hiking trails, indoor football pitches, massage rooms and hanging gardens, performance venues, amiable art and lovable graphics. They have been doing this for a while what is changing is the sheer scale and extravagance of these places.
For the tech giants are now in the same position as great powers in the past the bankers of the Italian Renaissance, the skyscraper-builders of the 20th century, the Emperor Augustus, Victorian railway companies whereby, whether they want to or not, their size and wealth find expression in spectacular architecture. As Deyan Sudjic, formerly of this parish and now director of the Design Museum, wrote in his book The Edifice Complex, the execution of architecture has always been at the discretion of those with their hands on the levers of power. Having as much sense of their own importance as those previous powers, tech companies probably dont mind commissioning structures that define their time.