What is happening
Nvidia has opened a new building at its headquarters in Santa Clara, California. Voyager’s unusual architecture is designed to keep company employees happy and productive.
why is it important
Towering, lavishly appointed campuses these days aren’t just for impressing employees and competitors. Post COVID, they also need to attract employees into the office.
On February 14, after four years of construction, Nvidia welcomed its employees to Voyager, a colossal new building at its headquarters in Santa Clara, California. Like the old Endeavor building next door, it’s named after a Star Trek spaceship, and visiting them is clearly meant to feel like a step into the future.
Now, even if you’re not employed by the AI graphics and chip giant, you can also check out Voyager, thanks to CNET’s exclusive look at the new building.
Voyager is an imposing 750,000 square foot structure that exemplifies the power of Silicon Valley. Imagine a building big enough to hold a mountain – Nvidia’s name for the towering central structure you can walk and work inside. A slightly domed roof pierced with triangular skylights rises high overhead, more like an artificial sky than a ceiling. With such a large and airy volume, it feels like both inside and outside.
But Voyager also embodies the uncertainty of post-COVID work. Thanks in part to the kind of gear powered by Nvidia chips, you can be productive anywhere with Wi-Fi. Between better hardware and the pandemic, many are wondering whether to come into the office. During my Voyager tour, I saw many empty tables, conference rooms and cafes. It’s clear that corporate campuses have a new job: to give workers a reason to show up.
“You want some kind of memorable wow factor for recruiting because there’s such a war for talent,” said Dyer’s Brown architect Ashley Dunn. Once a company has brought a recruit on board, it’s time to surpass the comforts of home: “You’re competing with people’s dogs and their sweatpants.”
For millennia, the rich and powerful have flaunted their status with ziggurats, pyramids, castles, cathedrals, palaces, museums and skyscrapers. Today’s tech moguls have replaced the pharaohs of yesteryear. Ideally, however, these buildings can be more than ostentatious. They can become architectural icons marrying art and engineering by welcoming the humans who work, revere and live within.
These humans are central to Voyager’s design, said Hugo Ojeda, Nvidia’s senior design and build director. Living walls, natural light, and towering windows are a big upgrade for soul-sucking box trusses. General Manager Jensen Huang asked for a design that didn’t lock in employees.
“He wants all employees to have opinions,” Ojeda said. All offices face exterior windows and there is plenty of casual space on the mountain for people to work outside of their offices.
The greatness of Silicon Valley
Nvidia’s Endeavor and Voyager, both designed by Gensler architecture office and Huang’s most common haunt, are Silicon Valley’s newest attempt at architectural greatness.
Google’s headquarters, called the Googleplex, gains a diamond-shaped building the size of an arena. Its roof looks like a huge piece of fabric draped over a grid of tent poles.
The gleaming cylinders of Oracle’s campus in Redwood Shores – said to reflect the shape of a drum symbol for databases in computer flowcharts — are futuristic enough that the filmmakers used them as a backdrop in Robin Williams’ 1999 film Bicentennial Man.
Samsung in San Jose occupies a rounded corner trapezoid clad in dark blue glass surrounding a large interior courtyard.
And then there’s the biggest of them all, Apple Park in Cupertino, the 2.8 million square foot ring-shaped “spaceship” that was one of CEO Steve Jobs’ passions.
mountain in the middle
Voyager’s entrance is a glass wall several dozen meters high. Inside, a reception area called base camp sits at the foot of Voyager’s central element, the multi-story “mountain”. A path zigzags up it, leading to vertical gardens covered with green plants and viewing platforms.
The mountain is covered with tables, chairs, cafes and nooks where employees can meet or work alone outside their offices. The mountain is tall, but it doesn’t reach the roof, preserving that feeling of lightness. “Valleys” on either side separate the mountain from the more conventional offices.
Creating attractive places to gather is important for finding the right balance between work and life, said James Mann, architect at French Harrison and Associates.
“These common spaces help promote a sense of belonging and belonging while providing an environment for colleagues to collaborate,” Mann said. “This is especially true for today’s generations who look more to an in-person work environment to enrich their social lives rather than achieving financial success as their primary goal.”
Toward the top of the mountain is an almost black faceted structure that resembles a basalt plug from an extinct volcano. At the back of the mountain, several levels descend into an amphitheater configuration where hundreds of people can attend corporate meetings and other events.
Outside, a 4-acre garden connects Voyager and Endeavour. Reaching above the steel columns is a branching structure called the “truss”. It is covered with solar panels but has enough spaces to provide dappled shade. Above are perched circular areas, the “bird’s nests”. All outdoor spaces have benches, tables and Wi-Fi to allow people to work outdoors.
It’s a nice place to hang out, especially with the mild climate of Silicon Valley, but even at the heart of a company with more than 22,000 employees, it was as sparsely populated as the Voyager’s interior. It’s not yet clear how Nvidia’s campus will balance remote and in-person work. It’s not the only company struggling with the issue.
Silicon Valley’s experimental culture will try more ideas to reshape the workplace than conservative industries like finance and law, Dunn predicted. “The evolution of the workplace will accelerate, with more in the next two years than in the past 100.”