Being a helpful neighbor

Ruth Porat, President & Chief Investment Officer; Chief Financial Officer of Alphabet and Google, discusses how the project’s holistic design integrates with the community.

5 minutes

"Great design is never just one thing – it’s a holistic, comprehensive, and user-friendly approach. It creates places where collaboration can happen comfortably – whether in person or virtually."

– Ruth Porat, President & Chief Investment Officer, and Chief Financial Officer of Alphabet and Google

What is your personal relationship to Mountain View and the surrounding area?

I grew up in Palo Alto, having moved there as a child from the UK via Cambridge, Massachusetts. My dad was a physicist at Stanford’s Linear Accelerator Center. One of the main reasons he chose to move my family here was the vibrancy, intellectual curiosity, and aim to do things that had never been done before. Things like building Stanford’s atom smasher. That vibrancy has expanded dramatically since the time my dad moved us.

Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Can you tell us more about what is so special about this region?

The culture of innovation here is infectious and always the topic of the day. Almost everyone has a deeply held commitment to making a difference in the world – that is what motivates us at Google and Alphabet, and I believe it is what motivates many others who choose to live and work out here. There is a drive in the Valley to create the future that we hope to see, and I think that makes it one of the most special places on the planet.

What is Google’s relationship with Mountain View?

Since 1999, Google has called Mountain View home, and we foresee ourselves being here for many years to come. Google chose Mountain View for our headquarters because we love everything about being here. We love the beauty of the Bay, the close proximity to universities, the family-friendly environment, and the chance to work in a city in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Many of our employees both live and work in Mountain View, and as a company, we believe strongly in being a good neighbor. Through the years, we have invested millions of dollars in the community, by giving grants to the Mountain View Educational Foundation to support STEM education, funding for the Mountain View Community Shuttle, grant funding to support homelessness intervention and prevention services, and ecological restoration projects like the Charleston Retention Basin, just to name a few.

And we are very proud that every year, Googlers volunteer thousands of hours with Mountain View-based organizations, including the Community Services Agency of Mountain View, Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange, Mountain View schools, and the extraordinary Computer History Museum.

How do Gradient Canopy and Bay View continue Google’s long-standing relationship with the region?

Gradient Canopy is our first-ever ground-up development in Mountain View, and we thought long and hard about how to best put together a project that delivers on the City's vision for the future of North Bayshore. Gradient Canopy rethinks the workplace with intentional design that invites the community in, integrates harmoniously with the natural environment, creates great economic value for the city, and also supports our employees who love living and working in Mountain View.

Since before the pandemic, part of the magic of our Google workspaces has been that these spaces are healthy, sustainable, and functional, with a little bit of “Googley” built in. Great design creates a place where people want to be, which is evidenced by almost half of our global workforce coming in voluntarily once our offices reopened safely. Now, through our ground-up projects, we are able to bring a lot of these commitments and learnings to the local community. We are really focused on how these spaces can engage the community, and build resilience and better health outcomes.

A rendering shows the view from Bay View’s event center lobby towards the landscape with a NASA wind tunnel in the background.

Can you say more about how Google defines “great design”?

Great design is never just one thing – it’s a holistic, comprehensive, and user-friendly approach. The approach combines opportunities to socialize, learn, collaborate, and focus. It creates places where collaboration can happen comfortably – whether in person or virtually.

How does this translate to specific ideas informing the design of Bay View and Gradient Canopy?

The motto of Google’s founders, “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” has guided the design of our offices from the beginning. For this project, there were years of research data and science on what helps employees be their most productive and creative.

The first idea we explored was around turning the office inside out – flipping the relationship between focus and collaborative spaces, and their relationship to open versus closed space. It means we are shifting from open desking, which presents challenges for focused work, to enclosed nooks. On the opposite end, we are shifting from enclosed meeting rooms to a wider range of collaboration spaces that are more open and adaptable, based on the types of collaborations the team is doing. Technology is obviously important in those collaborative spaces to enable equal participation for remote colleagues. Having these focus nooks next to dynamic team collaboration spaces means people can quickly transition when needed.

A rendering of the second floor and its village of team neighborhoods.

The next idea is around the cognitive benefits of biophilia. We have been working on incorporating biophilic design into our offices for years – bringing key aspects from nature into our offices, such as healthy materials, natural materials, patterns, soundscaping, thermal comfort, adjustable air flow, and circadian lighting.

While some might view these biophilic or air quality measures as an extravagance, there are also financial reasons to introduce more nature and healthy air into the workplace. All of this is about improving people’s lives, and when employees are healthy, happy, and able to do their best work, everyone, including the company, benefits.

How does all of this relate to Google’s larger goals around community-centered developments?

Our goal is to have connections and integrate into the local community, with vibrant ground floor spaces that tap into the spirit of the communities where we work and live. We see the long-term value of investing in places that reflect our values, and those of the community.

Originally published in May 2022