Almanac

Cover Story - August 3, 2011

First look: Facebook's new home from the inside out

by Sandy Brundage

If any office building has that coveted "new car" smell, it's Facebook's renovated Menlo Park headquarters.

Earlier this year the social networking giant signed a 15-year leaseback agreement for a 1-million-square-foot, 11-building campus that used to house Sun and Oracle employees. It also bought two nearby lots on Constitution Drive, linked to the 57-acre Sun campus by a pedestrian tunnel under the Bayfront Expressway. That gives Facebook the growing room to triple the number of employees to 6,100.

The Almanac was the first newspaper to tour the renovated campus, on July 27, just days before the first 500 employees left the Palo Alto office behind to move to Menlo Park. Building 10 is still so new to them that they sometimes get lost. Arrows scribbled on a wall point out "IT This Way ... Not THAT Way."

Once someone navigates the labyrinth of polished concrete hallways to arrive at tech support, they'll find a TV and PlayStation to ease the wait time until their computer's fixed — after construction's done. On Wednesday workers were measuring the space to figure out how to install a wall that will swing open like a garage door on to a central courtyard.

Employees didn't waste time before leaving their mark on the building: An exquisitely sketched pink elephant trumpeted from one blackboard wall; one worker found the perfect spot to display a short brown wig; a flower chalked in pastels climbed another blackboard.

Plywood partitions screened some areas while climbing ropes fenced off others, the contribution of a contractor who climbs in his spare time. Adding clothespins to hold notes will let the ropes double as a messageboard. Overhead, ceiling ductwork looked stark, matching the undisguised industrial feel of the office space.

The micro kitchen sported decidedly low-tech chairs — the plastic yellow and black seats match those in school cafeterias around the country.

Hacking design

Facebook's blue and white logos are instantly recognizable online. But that clean color scheme doesn't appear at headquarters.

Instead, vibrancy pops from random walls and floors. One conference room boasts a wall painted the exact yellow of a No. 2 pencil. Pointing to a scratch marring the scarlet paint of the room's door, John Tenanes, real estate director, said the team re-used everything it could from materials left behind by Sun. Ceiling tiles, company emblems etched in glass, "even the doors aren't new," he said.

Cozies — nooks set aside for intimate chats — were mostly empty on Wednesday afternoon, giving them more than a passing resemblance to IKEA showrooms, only without the "Buy this room for $299.99!" signs. Mr. Tenanes declined to put a price tag on the renovations, but said that re-using materials made the process "very cost efficient. We do more with less."

One favorite spot of lead designer Everett Katigbak contained a yellow chair next to a huge black pillow on an elevated floor, a space he described as feeling like "an elevated weird meditation space."

The cozies address one of the most requested features — more intimate meeting spaces. If that's still not tiny enough, scattered phone booths stand ready for private calls, while on the other end of the scale, the second floor's larger areas can host 300 people at a time. Videoconferencing equipment located throughout the building can even expand that, by reaching across the globe.

Facebook installed a network of touchscreen scheduling modules to keep track of who wants to use which conference room and when. The glowing wall panels add a sci-fi touch that wouldn't be out of place on a Star Trek set. The question arises, though, of how to know which meeting area you're talking about. Do you say, "The one with the huge pillow on the floor?" or "Turn left after the cozy with the fishbowl full of plants"? It turns out that the employees like to name the areas themselves.

Mr. Katigbak spent six months working with a team of designers that looked to neighborhoods in New York City and San Francisco, including the Mission district and North Beach, for inspiration.

"When I first saw the space, I thought ... Well, OK ... we can make this work," he recalled. To break free from the cubicles used by Sun/Oracle, his team looked more at exterior spaces than interiors, looking for a way to create a seamless flow between the outside and indoors. The unfinished, industrial feel of the new office is deliberate, reflecting Facebook's philosophy that its journey is only 1 percent finished.

A key challenge for Mr. Katigbak going forward is how to keep the company culture intact when its population grows weekly, a culture he described as "finding the most efficient way to take something and use it differently."

Networking

When you move into a new home, getting to know the neighbors typically follows, and Facebook's no exception. Representatives have been spotted in recent weeks at the city's block party; JobTrain's Golf, Glitz, and Glamour tournament; and even the K-8 Belle Haven School, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg surprised the graduates as commencement speaker.

The company continues to brainstorm partnerships with Menlo Park, in areas as varied as coffee vendors, bike shops, schools. And, possibly, bars. "We'll miss Antonio's Nut House," mused Mr. Tenanes, referring to a Palo Alto dive known for crushed peanut shells crunching under the feet of a crowd teeming with Stanford students and Facebook employees.

Opening a satellite bookstore appears to be a backburner, but the company does plan to open an old-fashioned library. "We like the idea of real hardback books," said Mr. Tenanes. "Not digital."

Asked how Facebook plans to balance the community's expectations with its role as a business, Mr. Tenanes said: "It's a good question. We're still figuring that out."

Essentials first

Like moving house, relocating headquarters sometimes leaves the niceties behind in favor of getting the boxes unpacked. A chef's already there, of course. By the time the rest of the amenities arrive, Facebook employees should be able to do everything from laundry to cutting hair to seeing a doctor to fixing a bike without leaving campus.

With Building 10 open for business, the next three offices should be done by November, according to Mr. Tenanes, with the rest of the employees due to arrive by year's end.

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