Gensler shakes up Silicon Valley

Triangular buildings for graphics tech giant Nvidia break the architectural mould in Santa Clara

If you're a fan of the kind of astute thinking and technological brilliance behind the buildings to be found in The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture you're going to like what Gensler is attempting in Silicon Valley. Gensler has a bit of a reputation as one of those corporate behemoths whose feet are usually firmly rooted in straight-laced reality. This time, however, the architecture practice has let its imagination run away with it.

Gensler was tasked with coming up with a new HQ for a major tech business. Nothing unusual there, but this business wanted to break the architectural mould in Santa Clara. The company is Nvidia - a visual-computing outfit known globally for its computer chips -  and which decided it was high time to join its peers Google and Microsoft by having a work environment that is a physical manifestation of its business.

Gensler's solution is a brace of out-of-this-world blunt-edged triangular motherships. The gently undulating roofs are formed of triangular panels, some of which are skylights. The practice is convinced that this concept will shake up its neighbours. "Silicon Valley is revered as the epicentre of relentless innovation and entrepreneurship, but its architectural landscape is an oddly banal place," the firm claims.


Nvidia HQ, Santa Clara - Gensler
Nvidia HQ, Santa Clara - Gensler

"Companies founded in spontaneous start-up environments - from garages to a friend's living room - grow up, only to find themselves bound to formula-driven campuses and buildings. And while the technology these companies develop and the way these companies work continue to rapidly evolve, their workplaces often fail to change with them. As a result, a growing number of companies are looking at the typical Silicon Valley office building - with designs based on efficiency and economics - as out-dated models for supporting their cultures of work."

Actually what Gensler is proposing would make a lot of sense for any business which pushes its staff to collaborate and innovate. Nvidia's 2,500 employees are currently housed in a number of buildings, across lots of small floors. In that respect, a low-rise building where most people have easy access to each other is a no-brainer. And why not make the stairs a feature rather than a must-have add-on? So these ones "function as impromptu meeting spaces".

According to Gensler, "Vertical connections between floors are not designed as stairs but as a series of oversized platforms to accommodate a variety of activities. Enlarged stair treads double as bleacher seating for a casual meeting and over-scaled landings create impromptu meeting places - a veritable 'stair-scape'." It's a far cry from Google Tel Aviv's slides but the desire to rethink form and function is to be applauded. And if you want staff to keep communicating, the triangle has a lot going for it. "Distances between connections are never too far away nor do people have to travel far to 'the other side'," the architects add.

Nvidians should be moving into their new home in 2015. A year later Foster & Partners' spaceship-like HQ for Apple should also land nearby.