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After quickly outgrowing two company headquarters and approaching nearly one billion users, Facebook has finally found and created a campus worthy of calling home. Located at the old Sun Microsystems campus in Menlo Park, the company has transformed this aging office park dinosaur into something that fits the company’s ideals of being social, mobile, culturally-relevant, personally sustaining, and promoting self-expression.

Gensler was chosen to complete the conversion and opted to have their younger designers work on the project in an effort to bring a fresh approach to the young company’s campus. Ringing in at nearly 1 million-square-feet and filled with mostly private offices, this would prove to be no small task.

Urban Design + Increased Density = Spontaneous Collaboration

Facebook’s first offices were spread throughout Downtown Palo Alto, which has many small restaurants and shops. Beyond the everyday pedestrian traffic, other local employees are out and about creating a lively energy and buzz. And while their new campus is anything but a downtown, urban environment – it has been transformed in many ways to mimic one.

Numerous food choices are available – two main cafes, a pizza window, burrito bar, sweet shop, a sit-down Mexican restaurant, and the various microkitchens – which provide choices that are reminiscent of the diverse offerings available in an urban context. Philz Coffee, a bay area staple, is also available for employees needing a caffeine fix.

Though the food is a great perk of working at Facebook, giving employees a number of options to enjoy keeps them full and creates opportunities for them to collaborate with one another while not officially at their desk engaging in “work”.

Another urban design strategy was to increase the density of employees by tearing out all of the old private office infrastructure and replacing it with an open environment. Increasing density gives way to additional opportunities for unplanned collaborations, and were something we learned Steve Jobs was fanatic about having at Pixar’s headquarters.

The design team also worked to create a well-balanced work environment filled with opportunities for staff to be focused as well as collaborative. Gensler’s Randy Howder explains in Insight (pdf) that “One challenge is to find the right balance between open-plan, collaborative settings, which predominate, and places where people can hide away.”

Another Gensler document points out that, “Individuals have the time and space to imagine, muse, write, reflect, create, and just be alone with their thoughts. They also have easy access to their teams to meet, critique, refine, brainstorm, iterate, and develop.”

An Atmosphere of Self-Expression

One aspect of the campus I was struck by was the degree to which self-expression was built into company culture. Facebook has an artist in residency program that gives an outlet for new artists to contribute pieces.

Employees are also encouraged to create their own art, and have also been provided numerous walls which allow them to scrawl messages to one another. Some of my favorite art on campus are the designs by David Choe who created the fantastic art in Facebook’s original offices.

Why go to all of these lengths to create an environment that allows for self-expression?

Great workplace branding reflects core values, and is also not a gimmick. Because self-expression is at the heart of the the user experience of Facebook – posting status updates, photos, opinions – the workplace connects employees to that core value.

But beyond simply connecting with those values, this design strives for something more. By creating a workplace where even the look and feel can move forward and adapt, Facebook aims to imprint this ethos into their company culture permanently. The slogans placed around the campus give a revealing look at this atmosphere of change and innovation, “Fortune Favors the Bold”, “Move Fast, Break Things”, and “Hack Often”.

Everyday Life

While we’ve talked a lot about the grand ideas behind the campus, it is always important to get a glimpse at life at the desk.

All employee workstations are equipped with manually height-adjustable desks by default, and mechanically adjustable ones upon request. Herman Miller’s classic Aeron chairs provide the majority of seating. Even Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, is located at one of the open plan workstations provided for all employees. He does, however, get the added benefit of a personal conference room.

Treadmill workstations are also spread throughout the campus providing opportunities to either stay active during the day or provide assistance to the more kinesthetic-oriented workers.

For those seeking natural light on their workstations, fear not. The layout provides ample lighting from a mixture of windows and skylights.

And lastly, in an effort to limit the number of car rides into Menlo Park taken by the company’s growing workforce, Facebook encourages commuting employees to either rideshare using company-provided shuttles, ride Caltrain, or use the Vanpool program. A Zipcar location is also present on campus. And of course, bike storage, showers, lockers and changing room facilities are available to those that prefer to cycle to work.

Design: Gensler
Photography: Jasper Sanidad

Photographs used with expressed permission of Facebook and Gensler for use on Office Snapshots.