THE CENTRAL VOID, NOT THE ENDLESS INTERIOR
THE ARCHITECTURE OF SILICON VALLEY’S “BIG TECH” HEADQUARTERS
The thesis explores three large-scale corporate headquarters located in Silicon Valley, designed, and constructed between 2006 to 2022, for the “Big Tech” corporations Apple, Google (Alphabet), and Facebook (Meta), and argues how its architectures become a framework through which to read the constitution of a highly productive labour subjectivity, deliberately ingrained in the context of California.
The buildings were constructed at a moment of growth where the corporations’ wealth and power were still welcomed with admiration; and notably under the creative partnership of the famed CEO’s and their architect of choice, to produce architectures that would disrupt and challenge known forms of corporate space and create aside from a central place of administration, a powerful representation of their ethos, and crucially in this context, also an active site of production, where the most lucrative labour for the corporation takes place, the creative and destructive labour of innovation, the one performed by the head and those who effect its directives, which are coming close to indistinction.
What resulted are powerful amalgams, that albeit shaped in distinct ways, manage to conceal yet be the apparatus of corporate power, creating three key categories: semblances of autonomy and creative liberation in its “productive” spaces, care, and pastoral natural settings elsewhere. The office here is no longer typical, rather, platform-like. The utmost site of experimentation where alternative models are claimed, and planning takes a new dimension, to “under-design.” An endless interior where indiscriminate of rank and file, its users are stoked to transform, update, and take control. In contrast, we see how other functions related to reproduction, wellness, fitness, and leisure, are carefully choreographed. City-like spaces are composed, run, and managed by the corporation, restaurants, fitness centres, theatres, but also parks.
At the core of this experimentation there is a primordial act of design, the reshaping and in its most extreme case, the erasure, of an arche of order: the central void, that shaped as courtyards, atria, plazas, or central lawns, has choreographed religious, military, civic, and corporate architecture through history, and a particular hallmark of corporate architecture their experimentation did not leave untouched. However, not for long. As subsequent buildings clearly show, it is not the “liberating” endless interior, but the “order” of the central void that proliferates in projects that are now designed by commercial developers, and that although part of the headquarters, rather than furthering the trials of the former, return to know forms of corporate architecture and become indistinguishable from the city.
This turn is at the centre of our hypothesis, which posits the project of the headquarters, and the hierarchic, colonial, and patriarchal power they look to effect through form, as highly dependent on the creation of outsides. Literal outside vs inside, public vs private, but also of unproductive vs productive, of life vs work. The courtyard of respite and leisure, vs the office of work and competition, whilst the corporation sponsors the cooking and the cleaning. What is at stake in these architectures and their outsides, is what they strive to constitute: a highly productive labour subjectivity for the hierarchic-colonial-patriarchal power the headquarters looks to effect, but crucially, also manage, and dampen, as its capacities are the same as those that could dismantle it. Whose sociability, ingenuity, and determination hold the possibility, at the very least, for more interesting and less repetitive futures, for headquarter-less lives and architectures.
Headquarters, Corporate Architecture, Silicon Valley, Cognitive Capitalism, Creative Labour
This PhD research is being conducted at the Royal College of Art, School of Architecture, under the supervision of Dr. Maria S. Giudici and Prof. Jeremy Myerson. Sponsorted by Hayworth.