Google’s vaulting ambitions to build a landmark new headquarters in the Californian city of Mountain View took a direct hit this week when the city council refused to give it all the land it needed, favouring Internet rival LinkedIn instead.
The new ‘Googleplex’, designed by Thomas Heatherwick’s UK studio and Denmark’s Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), was to bring 20,000 of Google’s staff under four huge, translucent canopies sited on more than a million square feet in the city’s North Bayshore district.
Various developers had requested rights to slices of the 2.2 million square feet of land available there under the city’s development plan.
(As a further high-tech twist, Google was to deploy special robotic cranes in constructing its vast HQ.)
But after a heated debate on 5 May the council awarded Google’s neighbour, LinkedIn, the lion’s share of the plot: 1.4 million square feet.
It gave only 515,000 square feet to Google, which was enough for just one piece of its four-part campus.
Google called it a "blow".
"To have one building – it’s a significant blow," said David Radcliffe, vice president of real estate and workplace services for Google, according to The San Francisco Business Times.Â
He added: "I’m not sure how I make any of this economically viable with one building."
LinkedIn’s plans are modest compared to Google’s space-age vision.
Its new HQ would be a cluster of offices and retail, including a movie theatre and a gym with a pool and a basketball court.
As CNBC noted, that modesty may have been a deciding factor: Google’s plan would have dramatically altered the skyline, and required unproven construction techniques.
"We are doing this without asking for any variances in heights or density, with a project that can be built now with existing technology and union labor," said Jim Morgensen, LinkedIn’s vice president of global workplace services.
LinkedIn also teamed up with an affordable housing developer, a sound political move in a city faced with rising housing costs.
Google is the largest employer in Mountain View, leading some commentators to speculate that the city council wanted to encourage other businesses.
In a statement to CNBC, Google’s David Radcliffe said: "We know the City Council had a tough decision to make last night and thank them and our community for more than six hours of debate."Â
He added that the company would "continue to work with the City on Google’s future in Mountain View".
Photograph: The new HQ was to bring 20,000 of Google’s staff under four huge, translucent canopies (BIG/Heatherwick)