Week 4: Some Normalcy–Samsung’s North American HQ

February 26, 2014

We have spent the last three weeks looking at billion dollar spending binges by some of the most well-known companies in the tech industry. I am taking this week to get back to the real world, but just for a week. Next week, we will take a trip to somewhere out of this world in cost and design with Apple’s new headquarters.

Samsung is building a cool-looking project with a center courtyard that is open to the environment. With a budget of $300 million, they are spending just a third more than Facebook spent on design alone. When completed, this building will hold 2,000 people, a relative bargain given what we have been reviewing.

The project is innovative but still looks normal. Inside the look becomes indicative of Silicon Valley. Quoting from below, “The vibe is supposed to be casual on the outside, but serious and competitive on the inside: sharks in flip-flops, vampires in jeans, eggheads in t-shirts. Samsung inverts this norm, playing off the besuited Asian business stereotype, while not quite pretending to the affable, work-life balance hang-looseism of a Facebook. This is a work space, even as it concedes that it must look Silicon Valley — which is to say, “innovative” — enough. Maybe call it Minimum-Viable Valley Architecture.”

One of the architects below called this design “post-Panopticon.” I had to look that up. Here you go:
The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behavior constantly.

How about the value proposition of reading this narrative: You get to see some cool renderings and learn a great word to use at your next cocktail party. We have a similar value proposition when we represent tenants: Best in class service, tons more experience than any other broker and good guys you want to work with—or like the author says below–sharks in flip flops.



What Samsung’s New American HQ Says About the Korean Giant
The architecture of fitting in in Silicon Valley


By: Alexis C. Madrigal
July 10, 2013


Samsung breaks ground on a new $300 million North American headquarters building in San Jose today. The building will house more than 2,000 employees in R&D and sales. As you’d expect, it’s a green (LEED Gold) building that’s designed to foster fickle innovation by making it easy for people to bump into each other in courtyards and facilities. The heart of the development is a ten-story tower that the company’s architect, NBBJ, says “will create a powerful brand image for Samsung.”

I got curious, though. What, precisely, did the building say about Samsung, a company that can compete with Intel with one hand and Apple with the other? So, I sent six renderings of the new building to some architecture critics to see what they had to say. I did not tell them the name of the company or architect; they were flying/critiquing blind. (And while I waited for them to respond, I brushed up on my Samsung history; you can skip ahead if you’re familiar with the company’s rise.)

A Brief History of Samsung
The company was founded in 1938 by Lee-Byung Chull as a trading firm, and by 1950 was one of the ten largest in Korea. A few years later, Samsung started manufacturing sugars and then textiles. The company’s entrance into electronics came in 1969 with the formation of Samsung Electronics Co. As summarized by Youngsoo Kim in a Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy report, “Samsung’s entry into the electronics industry had four important features which continued to characterize Samsung’s electronics activities into the 1980s: an emphasis on mass production, reliance on foreign technology, a follow-the-leader strategy, and government support.”

Through a variety of joint ventures with Japanese companies like NEC and Sanyo, Samsung began to build its technological capabilities, largely focusing on assembling black-and-white televisions through the late 1970s, primarily for export to the United States as an original-equipment manufacturer, or OEM, for American brands.

It was around this time that Samsung entered the semiconductor and telecommunications hardware businesses. The company built technical know-how throughout the 1980s across the world, including a massive facility in Austin, Texas. Samsung’s founder, Lee, chose DRAM, memory chips, as the area where the company would compete. By the late 1980s, that choice had paid off. As Japanese and American memory chip companies fought, Samsung swooped in to capture more and more business. By 1993, it had the largest DRAM market share in the world. That success started to bubble over into adjacent businesses. The company became a leading maker of flash memory and LCD TVs, the latter of which became wildly profitable in the late 1990s. All three fields required Samsung to value speed as they could only make money on a particular generation of products for a short time before commodification caught up with them.

That trait served them well in the small but growing mobile phone market of the early 2000s. “Even expensive fish becomes cheap in a day or two,” Jong-Yong Yun, CEO of Samsung Electronics, told Newsweek in 2004. “For both sashimi shops and the digital industry, inventory is detrimental. Speed is everything.”

Aided by South Korea’s early deployment of both broadband and wireless broadband, Samsung got the jump on some other companies in realizing the importance mobile phones would come to assume. Thanks to a massive (and still growing) global marketing and advertising campaign begun by Eric Kim in 1999, their phones became the consumer product that transformed Samsung’s image from a manufacturer of cheap electronics into an elite global brand.

Now, Samsung finds itself as a vertically integrated monster electronics company with a top 10 global brand. And they’re one of only a handful of corporations that have figured out how to make money off smartphones.

And yet, the original knock, summed up by Sea-Jin Chang in his 2008 book, Samsung Vs. Sony, on which I’ve relied heavily in this account of the company’s fortunes, remains: “Samsung is not competitive in products for which creativity and software matter and to which Samsung’s magic formula, ‘speed and aggressive investment,’ do not apply.” But that’s not to say that Samsung has not desperately wanted to become radically innovative, like the Sony of old and Apple of late.

The Architecture of Fitting In
So… That’s the context for this new building in San Jose. A company headquarters is a monument to what it wants to be. And Samsung has been nothing if not aspirational (and successful).

Remember that (all but one of) the architecture critics I contacted did not know that we were talking about a Samsung building. They just knew it was the prospective North American HQ of a global corporation.

Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times‘ architecture critic, delivered a perfect summation of the building’s aspirations, revealing several threads that run through the rest of the evaluations. I’m going to let him walk you through the building.


What do these renderings reveal? A building that makes sincere if modest gestures in the direction of public engagement but is more clearly designed to draw employees into a sleek, dynamic and well-appointed interior realm. On its outer facades, it is stocky, symmetrical and well-behaved, reminiscent of office buildings of the 1960s and 1970s; the decision to slice it into three horizontal bands suggests an interest in keeping it, at any cost, from looking like a vertical building.


Inside, the focus is very different: on interaction, collegiality, a chance for employees to see what their colleagues are doing, and even better to run into them on the way to or from a meeting or the gym. Many new high-tech campuses — by Facebook, Apple et al. — put an architectural and rhetorical premium on this kind of serendipitous encounter and how it can boost a company’s creativity. This was the basis of Marissa Mayer’s edict that Yahoo employees stop working so much from home; as she put it, people are “more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”


That, of course, is a fundamentally urban notion, the same idea that has always made cities attractive and vital. Crucially, though, the companies allow it only inside, from one employee to another; outside, they prefer suburban enclaves that their staffs reach largely by car. They want city-like energy inside the building, but a ring of privacy and a suburban buffer outside.


This building seems not nearly as extreme in that regard as, say, Norman Foster’s Apple Campus 2; but the long arm of the parking garage serving the main building like plumbing serves a house, half-heartedly camouflaged behind its solar array and giant gridded metal panels, combined with the way the architecture is staid on the outside but fluid and energetic in the interior courtyard, suggests a watered-down version of the same approach here: a squared-off update of the Apple ring, feeling slightly guilty (but not *too* guilty) about sealing itself off from the world around it. You park, you experience a few yards of the public realm, maybe you buy a coffee at one of the storefronts attached to the garage; and then you make your way inside, where the architectural and corporate action is.


Mark Lamster, the architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News, saw the building’s rather practical appeal. “It looks like a pretty forward-thinking design, and I guess it will be a desirable place to work, but,” he noted, “it has a hermetic feel to it, even as it appears to be very open architecturally.”

As Hawthorne noted, the building retains the trappings of a suburban office park. “Move beyond the high-end, high-tech aesthetics and landscaping, and you find a building that is pretty insular, even though it appears to be set on a busy street grid,” Lamster wrote. “The idea: keep employees inside at all times, so they’re never away from work. (Companies also like to point out that this kind of enforced proximity promotes collaboration and innovation.)”

Samsung is, in fact, famous for requiring that employees trying to innovate spend vast amounts of time with each other. In Korea, they even have a facility called the Value Innovation Program Center to which employees repair for months at a time to literally eat and sleep at work.

Design Observer’s Alexandra Lange picked up on specific set of corporate cues. “Infinite loop. Check. Green walls. Check. Green roof. Check. Fitness feelies. Check,” she wrote. “The renderings of this headquarters exhibits many of the de rigeur elements of new corporatism, focusing on glass and greenery and casually dressed people, making the workplace seem like more of a walk in the park, or a lifestyle, than an office.”

She wondered whether the tension between the corporate subtext and casual facade could be resolved.
“The front, boxy building looks like a blandish 1970s office building newly retrofitted with a curving interior atrium,” Lange said. “It should be rethought, as the message of its front facade doesn’t match with the long, green-walled tail.

Founding editor-in-chief of Dwell Magazine and former New York magazine architecture critic Karrie Jacobs weighed in although she knew she was looking at Samsung’s building. Generally, she had much the same reaction as those who did not know it was a tech company’s new digs. “The idea is that everyone can see everyone and that this will somehow encourage human contact and collaboration. It’s post-Panopticon,” she said. “Not authoritarian but more about visual peer pressure, the built version of social media.


Where the others saw a general, bland corporate decisionmaking process at work, she had more explicit me-too reference points. “My first thought upon seeing the open core of the building was that Apple had reigned in its giant Foster donut,” Jacobs said. She also compared the building to IBM’s 1964 headquarters building in Armonk, NY. “Not for any good reason,” she noted. “But the resemblance, real or imagined, was enough that I entertained the thought that maybe IBM was trying to reinvent itself yet again with a fabulous, greenish, state of the art Silicon Valley building.”

Putting the responses together, I’m struck by the idea that this is an architecture of fitting in. When American companies look to foreign markets, they often talk about “localizing” their products for the “cultural preferences” of the target consumers. This building strikes me as what happens when a very smart company from a distant shore localizes ititself for Silicon Valley. It must have green space. It must have green walls. It must have “fitness feelies.” And there is something for everyone, as BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh (and incoming editor of Gizmodo) observes. “They are also trying to project an appeal across class lines and lifestyles by depicting different types of render ghosts in the images: dudes in shorts, women in pant suits, a lady in a tennis visor, guys in Prada-like autumn wear sporting Ray-Bans in the sun.”


Manaugh allllmost calls the building the mullet of corporate headquarters: business in the front, party in the back.

“The images also say that they’re serious and competitive on the outside (see the modern, gridded, rectilinear building envelope), but, around the corner, if you’re willing to walk out back here with us, you can check out our oddly shaped long tail where you’ll get lost in the free geometry and casual landscaping, and you can dwell for a while and have a coffee” he wrote to me. “Meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to work here — or to be invited here for a meeting — you will experience our quirky interior courtyard carved out of the floor plate, indicating that we’re more fun and less formal than the public image we first deliberately greeted you with.”

What makes the building interesting as a Samsung emblem is that this is an inversion of the stereotypical Valley attitude. The vibe is supposed to be casual on the outside, but serious and competitive on the inside: sharks in flip-flops, vampires in jeans, eggheads in t-shirts. Samsung inverts this norm, playing off the besuited Asian business stereotype, while not quite pretending to the affable, work-life balance hang-looseism of a Facebook. This is a work space, even as it concedes that it must look Silicon Valley — which is to say, “innovative” — enough. Maybe call it Minimum-Viable Valley Architecture.

NBBJ Unveils Samsung’s New Garden-Filled San Jose Campus That Could Rival Them All


By: Bridgette Meinhold
February 26, 2013

There’s a new kid on the block and its name is Samsung. Well, Samsung certainly isn’t new, but the electronics giant is building a brand new $300-million campus in San Jose that is could rival the new campuses for Facebook, Apple and Google, which are all in the works in Silicon Valley. Designed by NBBJ, the new Samsung Campus will include two office towers and new research facilities, plus lots of amenities for employees. Energy efficient design with a heavy focus on the building envelope, an open-air concept and gardens on every floor are a few of the strategies unveiled so far. The battle in our minds isn’t who makes the best technology, but who has the greenest campus. Let the battle begin!

Samsung HQ 1

Samsung HQ 2

Samsung’s new campus will expand the company’s existing US reach and set it on a more level playing field with the other tech companies with headquarters in Silicon Valley. The San Jose campus will include two 10-story towers, research facilities, a clean room, data center, basketball and sports courts, and cafes. To encourage collaboration and employee interaction, the design features many “team collaboration” zones throughout. In total, the project will cover 1.1 million square feet and provide 2,500 high-skill, high-wage jobs.

Samsung HQ 5

NBBJ’sopen-air design features outdoor walkways and corridors that lend the building a feeling of being in a vertical park. Gardens are on practically every floor and connect the office spaces to the atriums and dining facilities. Besides being infused with plants and flowers, the project will place a strong focus on energy efficiency. So far NBBJ and Samsung have revealed that the exterior will be clad in white metal and clear glass optimized to reduce solar heat gain and fill the offices with natural daylighting.

Work is expected to begin on the campus in July 2013 and completed sometime in the middle of 2015. All of the major new campuses to be built are still working out their details, so we’ll have to watch to see who tops out in terms of sustainability. Who will have the greenest campus of them all?

Samsung Semiconductor Breaks Ground on North San Jose Mega Campus

Silicon Valley Business Journal

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein
July 10, 2013

Samsung Groundbreaking

With a bit of ceremonial dirt thrown, Samsung Semiconductor Inc. officially kicked off construction of its high-profile North San Jose campus, and the company pulled out all the stops to let the world know.

Samsung just Tuesday pulled permits to begin early pile work on the 680,000-square-foot project, whose breathtaking design from architecture firm NBBJ has garnered international attention. A two year build-out awaits with general contractor Webcor running point, but on Wednesday top executives were all smiles as they thanked city and state officials for working to smooth the company’s path. (See slideshow at right.)

“Although we’ve had a really great 30 years in Silicon Valley here, it is not enough,” Samsung executive Charlie Bae told a crowd of hundreds who gathered in a massive tent set up for the occasion. (It was held on the site of the company’s former home, a 1980s-era office park that was recently demolished.)

“I truly believe this new campus will provide the world’s best convenience and comfort for our employees…In two years, I’d like to invite all of you here when we finish the buildings,” he said.

Samsung Semiconductor is a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korea-based Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which is the second largest semiconductor manufacturer in the world. The company’s headquarters here will house research and development and marketing, and its efforts show up in everything from Samsung phones and TVs to countless third-party products.

“This facility will play a very important role in expanding our R&D capabilities in Silicon Valley,” said OH Kwon, the vice chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics.

The start of construction marks a major milestone for the city, which worked with the state of California to keep the tech juggernaut in San Jose when it outgrew its existing home here. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told me the project is “the largest single development event in North San Jose’s history.”

With Samsung also eyeing expansion in Austin, officials devised a package of incentives worth $7 million to keep its longtime hometown competitive, and approved the deal in March.

But Reed said the decision was also about the area’s talent pool.

“They could go anywhere in the world, they have the money to go anywhere in the world, and they have chosen to stay right here in this site,” Reed told attendees. “That’s a great day for the state of California.”

Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the swift work on the deal shows the region can be business friendly.

“(Gov. Brown) has…been able to remove the perception that California is all about this,” Guardino said, unravelling a roll of red tape. “He’s replacing that perception with a red carpet.”

San Jose says it will see about $23 million in new city revenues from the project. It has enough room for about 2,000 workers, up from a current head count of 300.

That planned growth drew a jovial warning from Cisco EVP Randy Pond, who also spoke at Wednesday’s event.

“We’re excited to have this kind of building in our neighborhood,” Pond said. He added a bit later with a laugh: “I’ll continue to be pleased if you don’t recruit up and down Tasman Drive.”

The project becomes the second massive corporate campus to break ground in recent months amid a boom in tech owner-user projects. Google is currently working on its Bayview campus on Moffett Field in Mountain View. Others are planned from Nvidia Corp. and Apple, Inc. (And a new campus is well underway for LinkedIn in Sunnyvale, but the tech company is leasing it.)



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