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Tech giants compete for the greenest building

Apple, Facebook and Google launch multi-million dollar plans for creating sustainable headquarters.

April 2015

The Godfathers of Silicon Valley, California are putting all their resources into creating new and improved green headquarters.

Silicon Valley is home to the world’s largest tech giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Critics have stated that in the past these pioneers of Silicon Valley, many of whom started in garages, always focused on building life-changing products as opposed to the built environment, although shifting dynamics are causing these companies to invest in building sustainable headquarters.

For example, Apple, Facebook and Google have created much hype around their ambitious, multi-million dollar plans to either extend or create brand new sustainable headquarters.

APPLE’S FUTURISTIC SPACESHIP CAMPUS

In the most recent and high-profile assertion, Apple CEO Tim Cook said during last year’s Climate Week conference in New York: “We are building new headquarters that will, I think, be the greenest building on the planet.”

Cook was discussing the company’s plans to build Campus 2, more commonly dubbed the ‘spaceship’ because of its UFO appearance. Apple’s new headquarters, due to open next year has created much buzz after executives boasted that the building will be 100% green, and will vie for the title of the world’s greenest building.

In an interview with Architectural Record, Foster+Partners founder and Chairman Norman Foster explained that he was inspired by the idea of a London square, where houses surround a park. This eventually evolved into the present design: a circular structure surrounding a large outdoor park.

“It will be the most energy efficient building of its kind. Powered by 100% renewable energy sources, the campus goes beyond showing respect for the environment to forming a partnership with it. Air flows freely between the inside and outside of the building providing natural ventilation for 75% of the year. And sunlight powers one of the largest onsite corporate solar energy installations in the world,” says the company.

In addition, just fewer than 80% of the site will be open space, populated by more than 7,000 trees, including more than 6,000 newly planted shade and fruit trees. Drought-tolerant plants will be used throughout the landscape to minimise water use.

Apple projects its maximum energy use across the entire 5.9m sq ft (548,000 sqm) campus, including office spaces, research centres, parking structures and other buildings, to be around 142,000,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Based on the total area of all the buildings on site, Apple Campus 2 will have an energy use intensity of about 257 kWh per sqm per year.

The company is expanding its existing commute alternative programme by 20%. Over a third of its nearly 15,000 employees can commute to the new campus using biofuel buses, public transit, bicycles and carpools. “And for drivers, we’ll have over 300 electric vehicle charging stations,” says the company.

In addition, Apple has announced that it is investing in an USD 850 million solar farm to power its new futuristic headquarters.

The company will be the biggest single consumer of energy from the new solar farm which is being constructed on 1,300 acres in rural Monterey County, California, south of Cupertino where Apple is headquartered.

While it’s not the largest consumer of green energy, Apple is one of the most efficient. The company utilises 626,315,500 kWh of green power annually and aims to have a neutral carbon footprint very soon. It has recently taken steps such as the purchase of several solar farms to make its data centres entirely sustainable.

FACEBOOK’S NATURAL DESIGN

In an effort to make its campus sustainable, Facebook are planning a huge extension to its campus in Menlo Park, California. Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the new campus is shunning the traditional mix of grasses and small shrubs in favour of full-grown trees, which will require laying as much as four feet of soil atop the quarter-mile building.

In addition a landscaped embankment will conceal the warehouse-style structure from view. According to the Menlo Park Planning Commission, the campus will appear like a wooded hillside rather than a building.

The design of the new 433,555-square-foot Facebook campus, covering 22 acres, is an eco-friendly complex, which is expected to be able to accommodate approximately 3,400 workers, and incorporate an enormous room (making Facebook home to the largest open-plan office on the planet) as well as a tree-covered rooftop garden.

Dubbed by some as the ‘hobbit hole’ due to its natural design to blend in with the hillside, the new extension will connect the existing campus via an underground tunnel.

THE NEW GOOGLEPLEX

Google is one of the biggest proponents for green energy in the world, having been a carbon neutral company since 2007. It utilises 737,364,727 kWh of green energy annually and its data centres use roughly half the energy than a typical data centre. Over the years it has committed itself to driving renewable energy innovation and has contributed vast amounts of resources to find alternative sources of energy.

In February the company submitted plans to build a massive new Googleplex campus in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View, California, adjacent to its current headquarters.

“The idea is simple. Instead of constructing buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas,” says David Radcliffe, Google’s Vice President of real estate.

The campus will have a huge nature and wildlife component, with plans to restore waterways and build meadows and creeks that connect to the San Francisco Bay. In addition the underground parking will create more pedestrian walkways, bike paths and an urban village atmosphere for both Google employees and locals.

“Large translucent canopies will cover each site, controlling the climate inside yet letting in light and air. With trees, landscaping, cafes, and bike paths weaving through these structures, we aim to blur the distinction between our buildings and nature,” adds Radcliffe.

Radcliffe says that technology has enabled the company to do more with less. Google has made use of natural climates to make its data centres 50% more efficient than the industry average, and green building technology has helped limit energy consumption in its offices around the world.

“Now, we’re doing more with less to power Google’s North Bayshore campus in Mountain View. We’ve recently signed a long-term agreement to purchase enough local wind energy to offset the electrical consumption of our North Bayshore headquarters on an annual basis. While we’ve been committed to being a carbon-neutral company since 2007, and we purchase clean energy for our data centres, this agreement is the first of its kind when it comes to our offices,” says Radcliffe.

The company’s agreement NextEra Energy Resources will help to repower an iconic Bay Area wind farm at California’s Altamont Pass with new turbines that will pour 43 MW of electricity onto the grid starting in 2016. This new technology is twice as efficient, and also safer—especially for wildlife.

“Since our first wind investment in 2010, we’ve developed close relationships with renewable energy providers, helping us secure renewable energy agreements like this one for our campus and data centres—more than 1.1 gigawatt’s worth to date—and it’s also made it possible for us to make equity investments in 17 utility-scale renewable energy projects. And over the years we’ve been thrilled to see other California leaders, from tech companies to universities, also working to bring more renewable energy online,” says Radcliffe.

Once the installation is complete, and the 370 turbines are replaced, it will take 24 new ones to generate as much power as the campus uses in a year.

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