maría álvarez - King’s Cross
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1

The corporation had become what Harlow Herbert Curtice (chairman of General Motors between 1953 and 1958) called “one of the great national resources -, more important than the natural resources we’ve received as gifts.”

See Louise A. Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: The MIT Press, 2011), 81.

2

Ibid., 217.

3

See Georgios Eftaxiopoulos, “No-Fun: Fun Palace and the Cult of Flexibility,” Perspecta 51 (2018): 255-261.

4

See Albert Pope, Ladders (Houston, Tex.: Rice School of Architecture, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015).

The New Factory: From Corporate Campus to Megaform

Despite the threat of Brexit, the technology giants have decided to expand their premises in London.  Google has already started building its new campus at King’s Cross, Facebook looks likely to become its new neighbour very soon, and Apple has bought up 40% of the office space created by the refurbishment of the old Battersea Power Station. But while Apple’s campus on the West Coast of the United States is located on the urban outskirts, in the United Kingdom the company has decided to position itself right in the heart of the capital.

The giants of Silicon Valley were inspired by a corporate campus model which originated in the decentralization of resources during the Cold War. They were confident that isolation in a natural environment would not only improve scientists’ and engineers’ work conditions and creativity but also help convince a sceptical public of the social and political benefits of corporate power1. As a result, the truly significant thing was that “unlike residential suburbs, this type of metropolitan development did not originate as an ideal promoted by designers2.”What Louise A. Mozingo defined as “pastoral capitalism” came about thanks to the initiative of the corporations themselves, which instrumentalised the idyllic image of the campus (far from the chaos of the city centre) as a cultural value.

Just as the corporate campus helped to formalise the metropolitan area of American cities, structures erected by the tech giants will help to reconfigure big city “innovation districts”. In fact, Google’s star architects Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick have presented their new head office complex as a whole new building type – a “landscraper” – that contrasts sharply with the skyscrapers that traditionally house corporate administrative centres.  A 300-metre-long megaform, it occupies five building plots in the King’s Cross development plan. Its horizontality is a literal attempt to accommodate a “knowledge economy” environment in which highly skilled workers collaborate in a common space apparently lacking in hierarchies and designed to facilitate both productivity and wellbeing among employees. This is done not only by making workspaces increasingly more homely, but also by incorporating leisure zones within the corporate boundaries. In fact, in addition to a restaurant, a gym and a swimming pool, Google’s “landscraper” also has a roof garden intended for activities like “relaxing”, “physical exercise”, “meeting friends” and even “getting away from work”.

However, regardless of the problems which may be caused by not separating work and leisure spaces3, the presence of the tech giants in the city centre still upholds the “village”4 concept so characteristic of the original corporate campuses:  that of enclosed, inward-looking environments fostering excessive autonomy, privacy and segregation. Such urban transformation, taking place at both spatial and political levels, reflects the growing privatisation of the city. Projects for cities cannot therefore be fully realised exclusively with an attractive corporate image: they also reside in the critical potential of the architectural forms they incorporate.


Cover image: Campus Google en King’s Cross (Londres, RU) *Créditos de imagen Heatherwick Studio
Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor

Notas de página
1

The corporation had become what Harlow Herbert Curtice (chairman of General Motors between 1953 and 1958) called “one of the great national resources -, more important than the natural resources we’ve received as gifts.”

See Louise A. Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: The MIT Press, 2011), 81.

2

Ibid., 217.

3

See Georgios Eftaxiopoulos, “No-Fun: Fun Palace and the Cult of Flexibility,” Perspecta 51 (2018): 255-261.

4

See Albert Pope, Ladders (Houston, Tex.: Rice School of Architecture, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015).

Autor:
Arquitecto, vive y trabaja en Londres. Doctor por la ETSAUN (Pamplona), MA en History & Critical Thinking por la Architectural Association School of Architecture (Londres). María ha participado en distintas conferencias internacionales y ha sido también profesor ayudante de la ETSAUN, “Visiting Lecturer” en la School of Creative Arts de la Universidad de Hertfordshire (Hatfield, RU) y crítico invitado en la Architectural Association (Londres, RU).

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