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Google's news finally gives workplace architecture the recognition it deserves

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Google’s exciting choice of designers for its HQ shows how architecture is being used to woo talent, says Rory Olcayto

There are very few stories in the architectural world that have the capacity to ‘break the internet’ but last Friday’s announcement by Google that Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels are set to design the search engine giant’s new home is about as close as we’re going to get. It’s a sensational development – and very good news as well. At last, it seems, workplace architecture is being given the recognition it deserves, and Google’s dynamic duo have conjured a fascinating vision for Mountain View, a flexible network of rooms ranged under a translucent net, which could well inspire other tech firms to follow suit and commission great architecture too.

But as I make clear in this week’s Culture essay, the meaning behind this internet-busting news has much to do with an emerging paradigm in human resources that recruitment specialists are calling the ‘war for talent’. Indeed, the AJ is chairing a round table in MIPIM next week on this very topic, with partner ISG. We’ll be asking what architects can do to help businesses hold on to their best staff, from the macro – such as ‘what does the future of the global headquarters actually look like in the wake of start-up culture? – to the micro – such as, ‘Is the office tea point a physical example of a social media space, where incidental communication can lead to useful new ideas?’ It should be a fascinating discussion. I’ll be in Cannes most of the week, on the London Stand should you want to drop by, as will my colleague Richard Waite. We look forward to seeing you there.

Player of games

What we can learn from other sectors is a topic forever discussed, and perhaps too often leads to dead ends. But Silicon Valley can suggest new ways of working – or rather one part of Silicon Valley can: the video games industry. And not in the usual way. This isn’t about using game engines to create realistic walkthroughs of proposed buildings. This is about the kind of relationship game developers havewith their audiences.

In a recent interview with Edge magazine, legendary programmer David Braben, who has recently published an update of his 80s classic space-trading game Elite, explained how he is working with the people who buy his game to improve it as they explore its virtual environment in depth. 

The game is so vast, and complex, Braben says, that there are undoubtedly bugs that need fixing as well as aspects that could be better, and who better to flag these than the players of the game themselves? Once these points are addressed by Braben’s team, the players can download an updated version and get back to the business of gaming. This sounds a lot like post-occupancy evaluation to me. But the way Braben frames the relationship is what we can learn from: by placing designer and customer in the same space, he diffuses tensions and finger-pointing blame games.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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