Facebook has big plans of expansion. And if the announcements are anything to go by, Facebook may become a ‘mixed-use village’ complete with condominiums and retail shops. It’s been just over two years since Facebook moved into its 4,30,000-sq-ft, Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Menlo Park, California. But Facebook recently unveiled plans, saying a new campus will come up right behind the existing headquarters in Menlo Park on a site that the company acquired in 2015. Facebook’s first campus was designed to look like a cross between Main Street Disneyland and downtown Palo Alto, the quaint town where Facebook got its start. Because of the limits of space and time, a lot of Silicon Valley companies don’t build new headquarters. They just take over the discarded offices of older firms. Facebook’s headquarters used to belong to Sun Microsystems, a one-time powerhouse of innovation that collapsed and was acquired by Oracle in 2009. The company got retail shops on to its sprawling private campus, where there are few commercial establishments other than fast-food joints.
The existing campus accommodates more than 2,000 employees and is not open to the public. Facebook had paved over a central artery of the campus, which Sun Microsystems had filled with manicured greenery, and sprinkled it with gourmet eateries dishing up free grub. It operates two gourmet cafés and dispatches food carts around the complex, so hungry employees never have to roam far. In the new plans unveiled by Facebook, it intends to build what it will call the ‘Willow Campus’. It wants to build a lot more than just office space for its workers. The new campus will include a grocery store, a pharmacy and 1,500 housing units. In the campus, more than 200 units will be rented at comparatively below-market rates. All of this will be open to the public, as per the company’s blog post. There will be 1,25,000 sq ft of retail space in total and 1.75 million sq ft of office space, though it’s unclear if the office will be reserved exclusively for Facebook.
The company will file its latest plans this month, initiating a review process expected to take about two years. Construction will follow, with the first phase projected to be completed in early 2021. This campus will be in addition to the company’s existing office space, and will not be a replacement for it. Facebook also envisions that this new campus will help with transit, which is poor in the Bay Area both due to traffic and due to a lack of public transit options between San Francisco and cities along the peninsula, where tech giants like Facebook and Google have set up sprawling campuses.
“The region’s failure to continue to invest in our transportation infrastructure alongside growth has led to congestion and delay,” the company wrote on its blog, saying it plans to build a transit centre on this new campus and offer “east-west connections”, which currently don’t exist. Tech companies have provided a lightning rod for angry Bay Area locals who have seen tech money dramatically change neighbourhoods and rent prices.
The buses that many tech companies use to shuttle employees from San Francisco down to their corporate headquarters have been smashed in the past. Facebook is conscious of the stereotype and is trying to get out ahead of complaints early with its new campus. Facebook wants to prove it’s a force for good in the world after it has been criticised for aiding the spread of misinformation such as fake news about the US presidential election, hate speech and terrorism.