Relying on real estate

Flexibility drives the design of SGI's new campus in Silicon Valley

September 01, 2001 |

In a landscape of ephemeral profits and a roller coaster of a stock market, few assets are as reliable as real estate holdings. This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where the current buzz may be more about bricks-and-mortar than clicks-and-bits.

Michael Lewis, author of The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story and Next: The Future Just Happened, believes that the Internet is "it" despite ongoing economic wake-up calls. But Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) isn't taking any chances. SGI's new four-building Crittenden campus in Mountain View, Calif., designed by Studios Architecture of San Francisco, was conceived as an opportunity not only to provide space for its own staff, but to serve as a profitable real estate venture.

SGI's Michael Hirahara, vice president of facilities and services, says the two main factors underlying the design of its 500,000-sq.-ft. campus were a built-in "exit strategy" and flexible space to accommodate the needs of the company's engineers, including the inherent expansions and contractions of the technology marketplace. As of late July, SGI, under a lease agreement with Goldman Sachs, occupies two of the buildings, with 700 employees in sales, marketing and research and development.

Shaped by the client's desire for an exit strategy and the city's North Bay Shore Precise Plan, the four-building SGI campus was designed to meet the needs of the client and of the city of Mountain View. The city owns the 29 acres of land on which the buildings were constructed. Located a quarter-mile from SGI's corporate headquarters, the new campus was developed on a vacant lot along an access road to a former landfill site that has been reclaimed by the city and transformed into Shoreline Park. Between the original campus and the new one is Shoreline Amphitheater, a concert venue visited by about 500,000 people each year.

The Crittenden campus is organized around a central "village green," according to Studios' principal-in-charge, Erik Sueberkrop. The idea was to knit the campus into the surrounding parkland by creating a "green zone" around the horseshoe-shaped cluster of four buildings, with the open end facing the park and a newly regraded, reclaimed piece of land that acts as a buffer between SGI and Shoreline Park. Each building's exterior walls incorporate corrugated metal panels and brick accents. The buildings are accessible from the perimeter as well as from more formal, two-story lobby spaces that face onto the village green. Landscaped parking and screened loading areas are separated from the central courtyard.

An integral part of the exit strategy was the organization of space and services within each building. Two buildings have an area of 130,000 square feet and two have an area of 120,000 square feet. The design of the cores allows for the stratification of the buildings to accommodate different tenants on each of four floors. Key cards provide individual access to each floor. Two staircases in each building are pulled to the perimeter, providing dramatic views of the surrounding greenery.

While corporate hierarchy is old-school in Silicon Valley, the need for an environment conducive to focused work is a top priority. Unlike many commercial buildings in Silicon Valley, which typically have perimeter offices and a central, windowless research and development laboratory deep in their interior, space allocation in SGI's facilities is based on an opposite concept. Large R&D laboratories are located at the perimeter, and design engineers have internal, private offices. Management employees occupy open offices mostly along the perimeter. This arrangement allows natural light to reach beyond the perimeter offices.

While addressing SGI's requirements, the flexible, open-plan interiors make the buildings adaptable for multitenant or single-floor tenants. The decision to build four multifloor buildings rather than shorter buildings with large floor plates was made to "have a viable piece of real estate" as part of SGI's portfolio management strategy, Hirahara explains.

This strategy also affected the appearance of the campus. While acknowledging that corporate identity was an important factor, he points out that SGI "didn't want to do [a group of] signature buildings," because it would limit the appeal to potential non-SGI tenants.

SGI's strategy appears to be working successfully. Goldman Sachs bought two of the buildings in December 2000 and a third one this past spring. Construction of the fourth building was slated for completion last month.

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