ZGF was tasked with a one-of-a-kind projectâ€”transforming a landmark hangar into an office for Google. The structure was built by famed business magnate, film producer, and aviator Howard Hughes in 1943 for the construction of his H-4 Hercules airplane, more commonly known as the â€śSpruce Gooseâ€ť because it was almost entirely crafted from wood (although it was actually made of birch, not spruce).
Today, the Spruce Goose is housed in Oregon, but the hangar remains in Southern California in the city of Playa Vista, and now comprises a range of office, meeting, and food service spaces for the tech company. With Googleâ€™s specific requirements, and the buildingâ€™s rich history, ZGF embraced a unique approach to complete the remarkable conversion from an airplane shed to a contemporary workplace.
The different facets of the project went beyond anything the architects had done before, because it was crucial to respect the past while still designing a workplace that reflected Googleâ€™s core values. â€śThis project was a historic preservation, an adaptive reuse of an important historic structure, and the construction of a modern, four-story office building. Googleâ€™s a tech company, but itâ€™s interesting, because a lot of the way that we did this was analog, and we never would have ended up with this result if we had done this all digitally,â€ť says James Woolum, partner at ZGF.
Indeed, the ZGF team went back to basicsâ€”think printouts, not pixels. Diagrams, photocopies, and an endless selection of fabric swatches were the tools of the trade. This thorough attention to detail was the key to creating a cohesive space with just enough variety to keep the interiors fresh for the employees who are on-site every day.
The spine is a stunning feature that was restored, highlighting the intricate rehab work required for the latest iteration of the hangar. â€śThe whole central spine, which was made out of wood, had to be taken apart piece by piece, cataloged, and stored before it was put together again meticulously,â€ť Woolum explains. The backbone divides the four-story, 450,000-square-foot building lengthwise, with open floor plates that are pulled away from this locus and interior envelope. The varied shape of each floor and added skylights allow for abundant daylight to filter through every level.
The circulation routes were designed to increase interaction, which is key in any Google office, where employees often collaborate in several different areas during the day. The architects devised a boardwalk, on the perimeter of each floor, which allows individuals to weave through the long structure. â€śOn the boardwalk, you are moving vertically and laterally through the space. The places where the boardwalk penetrates through the spine were really natural points to locate some of the important amenities like the micro-kitchens,â€ť Woolum notes. Along the boardwalk, no two amenity areas are alike, giving users options and allowing them to view the impressive structure from all angles.
In this particular office, more sophisticated materials and colors were used to bring a new refinement to the companyâ€™s signature look. â€śThey wanted a grown-up Google, and it was really about this macro, micro way of looking at all of the spaces, and then being able to look at one piece to see how it complemented everything else,â€ť says Antony Tavlian, ZGF associate and interior designer for the project.
For the ZGF team, all of these interesting components were combined to create an office that gives its users enhanced experiences that go beyond basic job tasks. â€śItâ€™s not just the architecture or the beautiful furniture, or the artwork. It all comes together to support a layered and rich human experience. It really is a magical space,â€ť adds Woolum.