2021 was a year in which shape continued to follow finances. Throughout the year there were many examples of the world’s largest architectural firms designing for some of the world’s largest companies. From streamlined corporate headquarters to ‘work-and-play’ tech campuses, such projects take on additional significance as they search for clues about the future of work and offices after the pandemic.
But as we tracked the money this year, we also took the time to think about what lies in its wake. What are the social ramifications of large tech companies setting up space-age campuses in areas already squatting with a lack of affordable housing? What does the growing proliferation of Amazon fulfillment centers mean for traditional retail typologies? What are the human consequences of putting the governance of public space in private hands?
To explore this point further, we’ve rounded up the highlights of our 2021 coverage on the intersection between architecture and corporatism – for better and for worse.
We saw great architects design great buildings for great clients
Olson Kundig designed the LeBron James Innovation Center for Nike
The 750,000-square-foot facility, which opened in October, will be used by the global sports brand as a research, prototyping and testing base for both data analytics and products.
Foster + Partners designed a global headquarters for the PGA Tour…
The building brings the entire organization under one roof for the first time. It focuses on health and well-being, with a design that blurs the boundaries between the surrounding landscape and the interior spaces.
…and continued its long-standing partnership with Apple
This year’s results have included the restoration of both the Tower Theater in LA and a 19th-century palazzo in Rome. Meanwhile, the Apple Marina Bay Sands in Singapore was honored at the Prix Versailles 2021.
Pelli Clarke Pelli’s Google Tower proceeded ahead of schedule
Construction on the 35-story office building began in March 2019 and was originally scheduled for completion in August 2022. However, this has been postponed to May and in July the tower was reported to have reached its top at 590 feet.
Bjarke Ingels Group unveiled an infinity loop headquarters for OPPO…
Dubbed the O-Tower, the project aims to reflect the business ethic of “endless innovation in the pursuit of perfection” and serves as an iconic gateway to Hangzhou’s Future Sci-Tech City.
…while The Metals Company is also helping to reshape the future of metal manufacturing
BIG’s resulting suite of designs will include robots for collecting minerals from the seabed, carbon neutral ships and zero-waste metal processing and recycling plants to enable a circular supply chain.
Big tech’s digital footprint was matched by mega-architectural plans
Google has received approval for its ‘Downtown West’ mega campus in San Jose
The project is the largest project ever proposed for San Jose and is reported to cost more than $1 billion. The campus will contain 4,000 homes, 1,000 of which will be allocated as affordable housing in a state that will require 3.5 million homes for all income levels over the next four years to meet demand.
Apple has announced a $1 billion campus in North Carolina
While Apple’s announcement brought in big numbers for its various expansion goals within the US in general, and North Carolina in particular, details about the planning and design of the new campus in the Research Triangle area have not yet been disclosed.
Amazon Designed (and Redesigned) Its $2.5 Billion HQ2 in Virginia
Changes have been made to the facades, material and envelopes of all three buildings, all of which will feature a heightened biophilic design. Amazon also said it has added 5,500 square feet of planted areas, as well as a new east-to-west path that will help improve user signage capabilities.
Big plans, but at what cost for cities and people?
Hudson Yards’ Vessel is a sinking ship; when developers don’t listen, tragedy casts a long shadow
How long does it take developers to listen in mitigating potential disasters and security breaches? In the case of The Vessel at Hudson Yards, it took four lives, all under 25.
Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell dissects problems with big tech and the ‘blurred line’ between private and public space
“The Helix embodies much of the cynicism of both public relations and architecture,” Wagner writes. “It’s a ‘landmark’ that has been sealed off, isolated and controlled – an architectural testament to the power of business.”
Amazon is buying up dead malls – adaptive reuse or just eat its prey?
This isn’t the first time a multi-billion dollar company has tried to turn a struggling or unused space into a profitable site. However, a growing pattern of concern is looming over these ‘Amazon cities’.
Homeless Camp Grows on Apple’s Future North San Jose Campus
Apple purchased portions of the 55-acre site in Northern San Jose in early 2018 and currently has no published plans for its development. Meanwhile, nearly half of the homeless in the US live in California alone.
Amazon warehouses wreak havoc on California’s Inland Empire
Despite promising to add jobs to the community, warehouse-laden tracts have dumped an increasing amount of pollutants into the atmosphere in the form of increased truck and air freight traffic and propelled in part by a surge in online shopping.