I am currently pursuing a PhD in Architecture at the Royal College of Art under the supervision of Dr. Maria S. Giudici and Prof. Jeremy Myerson.
THE CENTRAL VOID, NOT THE ENDLESS INTERIOR
THE ARCHITECTURE OF SILICON VALLEY’S “TECH” HEADQUARTERS
The thesis explores the architecture of creative labour through three headquarter buildings, located in Silicon Valley and constructed between 2010 until 2021, for Apple, Google, and Facebook. It positions the corporate headquarters as analogous to its military counterpart and to the term’s etymology –stemming from head, centre, source, and quarter, enclosed by four walls– as the technical and spatial apparatus by which hierarchical organization of power is exercised; in our context, to provoke, capture, and transform into products the creativity and sociability of an independent subject, who we will frame as the hacker-architect, by obscuring their labour as self-realization through endless production, or what the thesis explores under the category of real work.
The thesis positions Headquarter-building as an emphatic project, reliant on spatial mechanisms, specific cultural representations, and images, to create a world, were the labouring subject par excellence, and the corporation, a hierarchical structure of asymmetric profit and decision-making, can enthusiastically coexist.
Historically, this project can be associated to a key architectural feature, the centralized internal void: courtyards, central internal lawns, and plazas, have organized religious, military, academic, and corporate headquarters alike. Crucially, in our context and the projects central to our study, the central void paradigm is subverted, or hacked, by selected architects and landscape architecture firms, primordially through two key spatial mechanisms: those that cloak its corporate purpose by organizing reproductive and care labour, the orchestration of creative anachronistic and aspirational images, the continuation of spaces and modes of organization embedded in their culture, and the use of landscape. These mechanisms seem to direct creative labour, exerted to take command over the space where this capacity is seen as “productive” the office floor, which in our projects increasingly take a non-hierarchical and self-oraganized form, or what we will describe as the tending towards the open “unplannable” platform. However, what is most crucial of this tendency for us, is not its rise, but its decline.
By discussing a series of less prominent headquarter-expansion buildings that followed, where the key architectural feature is not the open platform but the centralized void, marks the re-emergence of an arche of order, that will be argued as sine qua non to the hierarchical and colonial project the headquarters effects, in the context of cognitive capitalism, over the territory of knowledge and creativity.
The thesis will unfold firstly by defining the headquarter, Silicon Valley, and its technological production through two modalities, before and after the corporations’ acquisition of private property, and the transformation from the occupation of temporary interiors to the architectural project, where the central void is a key aspect of this transition. Central to the work, is the three case study comparative reading that will conclude in exploring the impossibility of the proliferation of the mechanisms they strive to tend towards, and the dangerous and prolific form of organization they could enable.
At the core of our argument is that through these architectures, the project of the headquarter does not stop at its fences, but that it extends to us, its consumers, through the technologies, devices, and platforms there conceived, that shape our lives today, and that we in turn help to endlessly produce.
Corporate Headquarters, Silicon Valley, Cognitive Capitalism, Real Work, Free Labour