By Rowan Moore
From California to London, the tech giants are employing top architects to build spectacular symbols of their immense global power. But they have their critics…
We know by now that the internet is a giant playpen, a landscape of toys, distractions and instant gratification, of chirps and squeaks and bright, shiny things – plus, to be sure, ugly, horrid beasties lurking in all the softness – apparently without horizon. Graphics – rounded corners, lower case, Google's primary colours, Twitter's birdie, Facebook's shades of blue – enhance the innocence and infantilism. It is a world, as Jonathan Franzen once said, “so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self”. Until we chance on the bars of the playpen and find that there are places we can't go and that it is in the gift of the grown-ups on the other side to set or move the limits to our freedom.
We're talking here of virtual space. But those grown-ups, the tech giants, Apple, Facebook, Google and the rest, are also in the business of building physical billion-dollar enclaves for their thousands of employees. Here too they create calibrated lands of fun, wherein staff offer their lives, body and soul, day and night, in return for gyms, Olympic-sized swimming pools, climbing walls, basketball courts, running tracks and hiking trails, indoor football pitches, massage rooms and hanging gardens, performance venues, amiable art and lovable graphics. They have been doing this for a while – what is changing is the sheer scale and extravagance of these places.