First look: Facebook's new home from the inside out

Employees begin the move from Palo Alto to Menlo Park

If any office building has that coveted "new car" smell, it's Facebook's renovated Menlo Park headquarters.

Earlier this year the social-networking giant signed a 15-year leaseback agreement for a 1-million-square-foot, 11-building campus that used to house Sun and Oracle employees. It also bought two nearby lots on Constitution Drive, linked to the 57-acre Sun campus by a pedestrian tunnel under the Bayfront Expressway. That gives Facebook the growing room to triple the number of employees to 6,100.

The Almanac was the first newspaper to tour the renovated campus, on July 27, just days before the first 500 employees left the Palo Alto office behind to move to Menlo Park. Building 10 is still so new to them that they sometimes get lost. Arrows scribbled on a wall point out "IT This Way ... Not THAT Way."

Once someone navigates the labyrinth of polished concrete hallways to arrive at tech support, they'll find a TV and PlayStation to ease the wait time until their computer's fixed -- after construction's done. On Wednesday workers were measuring the space to figure out how to install a wall that will swing open like a garage door on to a central courtyard.

Employees didn't waste time before leaving their mark on the building: An exquisitely sketched pink elephant trumpeted from one blackboard wall; one worker found the perfect spot to display a short brown wig; a flower chalked in pastels climbed another blackboard.

Plywood partitions screened some areas while climbing ropes fenced off others, the contribution of a contractor who climbs in his spare time. Adding clothespins to hold notes will let the ropes double as a messageboard. Overhead, ceiling ductwork looked stark, matching the undisguised industrial feel of the office space.

The micro kitchen sported decidedly low-tech chairs -- the plastic yellow and black seats match those in school cafeterias around the country.

Facebook's blue and white logos are instantly recognizable online. But that clean color scheme doesn't appear at headquarters.

Instead, vibrancy pops from random walls and floors. One conference room boasts a wall painted the exact yellow of a No. 2 pencil. Pointing to a scratch marring the scarlet paint of the room's door, John Tenanes, real estate director, said the team re-used everything it could from materials left behind by Sun. Ceiling tiles, company emblems etched in glass, "even the doors aren't new," he said.

Cozies -- nooks set aside for intimate chats -- were mostly empty on Wednesday afternoon, giving them more than a passing resemblance to IKEA showrooms, only without the "Buy this room for $299.99!" signs. Tenanes declined to put a price tag on the renovations, but said that re-using materials made the process "very cost efficient. We do more with less."

One favorite spot of lead designer Everett Katigbak contained a yellow chair next to a huge black pillow on an elevated floor, a space he described as feeling like "an elevated weird meditation space."

The cozies address one of the most requested features -- more intimate meeting spaces. If that's still not tiny enough, scattered phone booths stand ready for private calls, while on the other end of the scale, the second floor's larger areas can host 300 people at a time. Videoconferencing equipment located throughout the building can even expand that, by reaching across the globe.

Facebook installed a network of touchscreen scheduling modules to keep track of who wants to use which conference room and when. The glowing wall panels add a sci-fi touch that wouldn't be out of place on a Star Trek set. The question arises, though, of how to know which meeting area you're talking about. Do you say, "The one with the huge pillow on the floor?" or "Turn left after the cozy with the fishbowl full of plants"? It turns out that the employees like to name the areas themselves.

Katigbak spent six months working with a team of designers that looked to neighborhoods in New York City and San Francisco, including the Mission district and North Beach, for inspiration.

"When I first saw the space, I thought ... Well, OK ... we can make this work," he recalled. To break free from the cubicles used by Sun/Oracle, his team looked more at exterior spaces than interiors, looking for a way to create a seamless flow between the outside and indoors. The unfinished, industrial feel of the new office is deliberate, reflecting Facebook's philosophy that its journey is only 1 percent finished.

A key challenge for Katigbak going forward is how to keep the company culture intact when its population grows weekly, a culture he described as "finding the most efficient way to take something and use it differently."

When you move into a new home, getting to know the neighbors typically follows, and Facebook's no exception. Representatives have been spotted in recent weeks at the city's block party; JobTrain's Golf, Glitz, and Glamour tournament; and even the K-8 Belle Haven School, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg surprised the graduates as commencement speaker.

The company continues to brainstorm partnerships with Menlo Park, in areas as varied as coffee vendors, bike shops, schools. And, possibly, bars. "We'll miss Antonio's Nut House," mused Tenanes, referring to a Palo Alto dive known for crushed peanut shells crunching under the feet of a crowd teeming with Stanford students and Facebook employees.

Opening a satellite bookstore appears to be a backburner, but the company does plan to open an old-fashioned library. "We like the idea of real hardback books," Tenanes said. "Not digital."

Asked how Facebook plans to balance the community's expectations with its role as a business, Tenanes said: "It's a good question. We're still figuring that out."

Like moving house, relocating headquarters sometimes leaves the niceties behind in favor of getting the boxes unpacked. A chef's already there, of course. By the time the rest of the amenities arrive, Facebook employees should be able to do everything from laundry to cutting hair to seeing a doctor to fixing a bike without leaving campus.

With Building 10 open for business, the next three offices should be done by November, according to Tenanes, with the rest of the employees due to arrive by year's end.

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Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Not impressed.

Like this comment
Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Thank god that the suffering of College Terrace is almost over now that Facebook is leaving town. No more shuttles transporting workers so that there would be less car traffic--what College Terrace has to put up with!!!
Now PA needs to use a nice chunk of the $40 million from Stanford to compensate College Terrace for their suffering as Stanford's neighbor. That is the only fair thing to do.

Like this comment
Posted by Yawn
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm

We are supposed to care that they prefer books to ebooks? Yaaaawwwwwn of a story - it's annoying that we're expected to be curious about the FB culture/environment. It's good to know when crosstown traffic will increase, though.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2011 at 9:40 am

Switching to google. Better site- think about too.

Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

If you don't care about Facebook, don't read the article.

Like this comment
Posted by Mary Lautner
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 1, 2011 at 10:44 am

I just want to know who has MPK17 1316. I worked in the Menlo Park campus since it opened and I miss it a lot! Good Luck Facebook! Have fun and work hard!

Like this comment
Posted by sharon
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I cant stand Facebook, what a waste of precious time people wasting away for hours on this useless site. Why not pickup your phone, or, better yet, go visit your "friends" in person. This site encourages the de- personalization of society..I give Facebook 2 years max, and people will bore of this useless site, and Facebook will be "Faceless"..

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:13 pm

If you don't care about our comments, don't read them.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Sharon has no friends.

Like this comment
Posted by friend
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Can i be your friend,Sharon?

Like this comment
Posted by Good Neighbor
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2011 at 5:00 am

Dear Too Much Traffic....Don't blame College Terrace for Facebook's abandonment of Palo Alto. All College Terrace did was try to get FB to conduct their transportation system in a reasonable manner within the College Terrace community. FB was using huge, often empty noisy buses between buildings to transport one or two people two blocks so they could rave about their great perk for their employees (like their lunch program that kept their employees on the campus rather than utilize Palo Alto restaurants for meals. The buses were running back to back every five minutes even if there were no passengers. Incidentally many of their employees did not want to leave the College Terrace area for MP. Anyway, they were only going to be in their California Ave. campus for a short time prior to Stanford's reclaiming the upper California Ave. property for housing.

Like this comment
Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2011 at 8:09 am

"Don't blame College Terrace for Facebook's abandonment of Palo Alto."
I am not blaming CT--it was pretty obvious that they would outgrow this location.

"All College Terrace did was try to get FB to conduct their transportation system in a reasonable manner within the College Terrace community."
People complain about too much car traffic--so the company institutes a shuttle system. Naturally CT has to find fault with this. Had there been no shuttle system, then CT would be complaining about that. The world doe snot revolve around CT.

"FB was using huge, often empty noisy buses between buildings to transport one or two people two blocks so they could rave about their great perk for their employees"
If the busses were empty, how were they transporting people?? As i said, some people will never be satisfied. I think it is part of the CT way--you have to immediately complain about anything and everything so that the city will placate you. CT knows how to play the game.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 2, 2011 at 8:24 am

For truth in advertising perhaps College Terrace should change its name.
Noun 1. terrace - usually paved outdoor area adjoining a "residence" (ie. the college or Stanford)

Like this comment
Posted by BarronParker
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2011 at 8:39 am

Strange. Long article about the design of the new digs, and there was no mention of the actual layout -- where people are actually going to spend time. Offices? Cubicles? Kitchens? Lots of issues -- density, privacy, space, partitions, etc. The important stuff.

Like this comment
Posted by sharon
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:25 am

Blah blah blah......go away the old "Sun Quentin" fugly buildings

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