Nature is a commanding presence in Northern California. Whether along the coast or inland, its influence is deeply felt in the community. The architecture of the VMware campus hinges upon this realization and amplifies its inherently benevolent message to a further level of emotional awareness. Its function, however, further details how that relationship plays out in the architectural experience. Designing the workplace is possibly the pre-eminent building type of Silicon Valley. Much emphasis is exerted on optimizing logistical conditions to enable staff to maximize its productive potential for the benefits of the collective and indirectly for the innovative competitiveness of the goods and services it introduces into the marketplace. Architecture has a role in that human algorithm: it offers the tangible setting for that actualization.
Two chief resolutions set the tone of this scheme. A first decision was to reverse the typical proportional relationship between buildings and landscape. A set of carefully crafted pavilions dots gently a pastoral scene, while retaining the confidence of its architectural language: the human-made is purposefully enmeshed in the natural world. The second critical choice was to clearly separate the vehicular and pedestrian circulation. In approaching the site boundaries by car, drivers turn into pedestrians at its very edges through distinct points of access. A car-free campus is more than providing environmental stewardship: it is an opportunity to find the way everywhere through one’s steps. This is a compound fully accessible by walking and the sense of being in a garden consistently accompanies its users. In this context, feeling the park sets the stage for orchestrated discoveries addressing both program brief and the well-being of visitors and personnel alike. From secret gardens hidden in the crevices of the architecture to the robust scale of the campus green, these episodic adventures expand and contract organically in size to enable personal ways of dwelling in space, that are all evocative while offering a variety of landscape experiences.
Naming is locating and identifying. On this vast triangular sheet of land, the Hillside, the Promontory, and the Creekside situate occupants into the three functional sections of the property, comprising both new and existing buildings. What ties these parts into a coherent whole is a magnificent axis, the Grand Allee, graced with moving water and laid out along the East-West direction. This marker on the ground structures the site plan, providing a powerful ordering system that reinforces its navigational effectiveness from key portions of the campus. Being tilted to accommodate the mild terrain contours generates an ascent from the lower portion of the parcel to the Town Square, a fulcrum in the plan hierarchy and a metaphorical Acropolis from where to experience and absorb the commanding vastness of the VMware’s territory. This particular piece is a seamless blend of the renovation of an existing cafeteria and new architecture reclaiming a conventional structural module to determine a majestic procession of vertical voids intertwined with outdoor areas featuring deep sightlines penetrating its internal crevices. Both labyrinthine and iconic, it draws in the users in a quasi-open theatre/ shaded outside area terminating the perspective of the Grand Allee. It is a state of suspension that makes that particular experience so hypnotic. The large glazed surfaces supply the occupants with multiple chances to be part of the natural setting, yet protected from the elements. That openness creates a visual breeze easing the navigation of a space at the crossroad of many different routes to the various parts of the campus.
Statistically, access to the campus occurs primarily from Hillview Avenue. To attend to that first impression upon arrival, a highly detailed entrance pavilion was envisioned, staging lightness and the immaculate technology of its making. Although contained in scale, the grandeur of its material precision coax newcomers into the magic of its presence. This in an exclamation point in the architecture of VMware, deprived of the arrogance typically associated with buildings screaming for attention upon themselves. The refined elegance of its folded plane and glassed fins supporting the glazing enclosure singles it out in the design idiom of the complex. Yet its low profile makes it belong to all its sister structures. No building within the premise, in fact, is taller than two stories. The domestic demeanor of their massing helps in promoting friendliness and permeability throughout. It is the politics of transparency that colors so many of the design occurrences in this unique setting. The full contemporary and vernacular vocabulary of architecture finds a unique synthesis in a place filled with modernity and ancestral resonances.
In de-institutionalizing the workplace interior and exterior boundaries remain purposefully ambiguous, certainly a California theme, but here further developed in its spatial implications. In inhabiting its individual pieces, the wonder is whether one is inside or outside, a hallmark of West Coast architecture. Such soft delineation of its physical contours is consistently found in the numerous civic episodes where the workforce can find opportunities for chance encounters in a leisurely dimension, bucolic and metropolitan at the same time. The campus café in Creekside, for example, named Palm Oasis speaks more resort than cafeteria. It is a delicately enclosed outdoor structure with internal square footage spilling over its formal threshold to a generous open space, evocative of vacationing and lounging. It is a stage set for “creative informality”. From within, the countless possible views frame portions of nature, always different, always engaging. This is a highly popular destination within the campus. It lends itself for a variety of modes of occupation, from the relaxed to the ceremonial, from the one-to-one talk to the large gathering. Invariably the architecture, suggestive of the iconography of the heroic period of California Modernism remains remarkably current: refined in the display of its fittings, shading devices, roof angles, plan arrangement, and dignified intelligibility in its distilled formal idiom. It is suggestive of an architectural order without being classicists, picking up cues from the design expression of other parts of the campus, making it a distinct, yet cohesive piece of a larger whole softly distributed in the manicured rolling hills of the South Bay.
Similarly and within the same portion of the site plan the office buildings are self-contained microcosms articulating a design idiom amicable and techie simultaneously. Cherry Orchard and Oak Chaparral, as they are named, might as well come off as outposts in wilderness. A sense of the frontier, instead of fortification, declares the ethos of this company, which while steeped in the culture of non-disclosure agreements remains intrinsically open to self-inspection and introspection. Even in the handling of more dimensionally challenging components, receding architecture to merge with nature informs the many diverse conditions such complex program entails. Campus Green is such case. This sizeable massing visible from the Main Entrance is nested in the network of paths that connects all these architectural episodes into the VMware mental map. Punched openings, expressive roofs, deep overhangs, recessed vertical planes with distinct material assignment breaks what would otherwise be a daunting massing into a forthcoming frontage for campus wide events on the common lawns.
The hardscape is especially impactful in breaking the normative association of work to either cubicles or open plan and in transferring it to the outdoors. Umbrellas, tables, benches, lighting, water features, a variety of paving materials, practically the full arsenal of design moves to make the outside a fully occupiable space to perform vital functions for the company to thrive, are here utilized to shape a welcoming ensemble where to be in the working week.
This is the workplace of the 21st century.
Type Workplace Campus - Shell and Interiors
Location Palo Alto, CA
Year 2005 - 2017
Size 1,600,000 SF
John Sutton Photography and John Marx of Form4 Architecture
2020 Green GOOD DESIGN Awards, The European Centre and The Chicago Athenaeum
2019 Structures Award-Best Green Building, Silicon Valley Business Journal
2017 Nominated, German Design Council
2017 Green GOOD DESIGN Awards, The European Centre and The Chicago Athenaeum
2017 Best Green Building, Structures Award, Silicon Valley Business Journal
2015 First Place, Office Built, Re-thinking the Future Awards
2016 Award of Merit, Commercial Project over 20k SF, Gold Nuggets
2016 Best Energy Efficient Commercial Project, BUILD
2016 Winner, Architecture > Corporate, Iconic Awards, German Design Council
2015 Best Office and Business Development Shortlist, MIPIM
2015 1st Place Award, Office Built, Re-Thinking the Future Awards
2015 Honorable Mention, International Design Awards
2010 City of Palo Alto Architectural Review Award