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Non-Virtual Silicon Valley: The Landscape Where Global Media Is Made

Louise A. Mozingo, University of California Berkeley

While the high technology companies of the Silicon Valley have indubitably transformed global media, they also exist within a distinct physical geography. The office park dominates the business landscape of the Silicon Valley, a suburban form where individual buildings surrounded by parking lots are knit together by sinuous verges of trees, shrubs, and lawn. Though initially developed on the peripheries of cities in the eastern United States in the 1950s, the office park proved to be especially adaptable to the hurly-burly of Silicon Valley’s innovation and venture capital fueled cycles of boom, bust, start-up, fizzle, and chugging along. Office parks allowe tech companies to occupy, expand, contract, and abandon office buildings as need be. Until recently, this business geography could be characterized as diffuse, decentralized, and unspectacularly, if tidily, suburban.

Five decades along, the titans of the Silicon Valley are now attempting to transform their corporate headquarters into media icons of design, as explicit means of corporate representation. A case is point is the plan for the Apple II headquarters in Cupertino, California. Until now the Apple headquarters has occupied a classic office park; as business expanded, Apple took over more office park parcels, eventually occupying a sizeable tract of land and more than thirty buildings. But cash-rich and at the top of its game, Apple is planning an immense singular building, of over a half-mile diameter, placed within an expansive, aesthetically articulated landscape. Similarly Facebook and Google, once content to occupy the interchangeable buildings of yet another office park are embarking on major capital investments, hiring architects of international repute, and generating the attention of east coast design critics. These new corporate headquarter designs seek distinction within the diffuse visual field of the Silicon Valley, articulate a self-consciously independent corporate identity, and respond to the increasingly urbane tastes of their workforces. These spare-no-expense idylls fly in the face of the Valley’s typical prudence yet can be seen as part of an age-hold quest for lasting imprint on the landscape and on the mind, more about Versailles than virtual reality.

John F. Kennedy Institute