May 29, 2008

Tech campuses follow the San Jose model

  • Successful high-tech business parks need desirable locations, community-focused urban design and efficient transportation.
    MulvannyG2 Architecture


    Politicians and planners worldwide are thinking of ways to integrate high-tech industries into their respective city plans. Redmond, locally, and the cities of Beijing and Shanghai in China serve as examples of how high-tech-industry campuses can be used as a catalyst for civic growth.

    What makes these areas successful? The answer can be found in the way Silicon Valley capitalizes on three key elements: desirable location, community-focused urban design and an efficient transportation network. These elements are vital in creating an area that stimulates thinking and inspires innovation.

    The capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose, is the classic example that embodies our three criteria. San Jose is located near several top universities that funnel talent into Silicon Valley industries. Likewise, San Jose has recently redeveloped its urban core into an exciting shopping district. The area is well-known for its campus-like office parks — such as Apple’s One Infinite Loop and Google’s corporate headquarters — which combine natural and architectural features into an exciting work/play environment. San Jose has made a heavy investment in alternative transportation, allowing buses and bicycles to become popular forms of transportation.

    Redmond, Beijing and Shanghai are tech-intense regions that in many ways, knowingly or not, follow the San Jose model.

    Haidian, Beijing

    Image courtesy of MulvannyG2 Architecture
    The second phase of Zhangjiang Semiconductor Investment Park in Shanghai was designed with clusters of office buildings in a park-like setting to attract global tech firms.

    Intended to become the new model for modern living, the Haidian New Area is a 200-square-kilometer district located within Beijing municipality. Near top schools, the area combines pastoral surroundings and upscale facilities in an eco-friendly high-tech industrial zone. Moreover, the area will be the next site for the growing Zhongguancun Science and Technology Park (Z-Park), considered by many to be China’s answer to the Silicon Valley.

    In 2009, the Chinese networking giant Huawei Corp. will establish its northern headquarters in Z-Park. Designed by MulvannyG2 Architecture, the Huawei site will be a 2 million-square-foot R&D and reception center. The park has an open campus-style layout with juxtaposed L—shaped building patterns to allow for a central courtyard between buildings. With natural waterways and hillocks, the design takes advantage of the local landscape, which will be enjoyed by professionals and residents.

    Transportation problems will be mitigated through Haidian’s plans to develop more residential space in four villages near the technology zone. This, coupled with an expansion to the sprawling transportation network, will shorten commutes and provide for more integration within metropolitan Beijing.

    In terms of entertainment, millions of square feet of retail and entertainment amenities will become available in Haidian over the next few years. In addition, the area is close to many of China’s most precious cultural sites. These options give Haidian residents and visitors a broad spectrum of leisure activities.

    Pudong, Shanghai

    The Pudong district, located in East Shanghai, is host to the city’s financial and high-tech hubs. Located prominently in the high-tech portion of the district is the Zhangjiang Semiconductor Investment Park (ZSIP). Instead of building another crowded office environment, MulvannyG2’s design creates a comfortable, garden-style office environment.

    The park is designed and inspired by the culture, environment and amenities of several selective high-tech cities around the world, while maintaining a clear focus on supporting high-tech. To achieve the complex design of the buildings, multi-pattern building modules of differing sizes are used. These basic modules are highly flexible and use eco-friendly elements to create a healthy and productive environment.

    Design is a large part of the success of ZSIP. According to ZSIP executives, the park is able to attain a 95 percent lease/sales rate. They attribute this achievement to solid planning and exciting design, allowing them to offer contracts to only top-tier firms. Many of the top global tech firms — such as Advanced Micro Devices, an American company that develops computer processors and related technologies — have established offices in the park.

    Pudong is an ideal location for the Zhangjiang Semiconductor Park. Local universities provide the area’s tech industry with a yearly flood of bright graduates. Pudong’s Superbrand Mall, the Science and Technology Museum and other tourist sites are regular destinations of residents and tourists from all over the world.

    Shanghai’s crippling traffic is increasingly offset by the area’s public transportation system. Tonghe Xing, chief architect of Modern Design, China’s largest architectural firm, states that by 2010 Shanghai will have more than 1,000 miles of subway lines and 110 new subway stops. This will give the Pudong area, once only accessible by ferry, quick and direct access to the rest of Shanghai.


    Known for its natural beauty, Redmond is ideally located between the Cascade mountains and Puget Sound. It is surrounded by evergreen forests and boasts 34 parks and more than 25 miles of trails for biking, walking and horseback riding. Just 20 minutes from downtown Seattle and surrounded by top universities, Redmond is positioned perfectly for its role as the Pacific Northwest’s center of high-tech software and manufacturing giants, including Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Concur, Data I/O and Genie Industries.

    Microsoft’s 388-acre Redmond campus is home to more than 25,000 employees plus thousands of temporary workers, vendors and support staff, making it one of the largest corporate campuses in the world. To support this bustling high-tech hub, the campus is designed around clusters of buildings connected by green space, paths and streets.

    To support an interactive work/play environment, the campus is sprinkled with a variety of amenities, including 25 cafeterias, basketball courts, soccer fields, a baseball diamond, volleyball courts and a company store. The design of the current campus and its ongoing expansion of 3.1 million square feet, scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2009, focuses on creating innovative work space while respecting the natural environment.

    Growth doesn’t come without consequences. The Puget Sound area continues to suffer from traffic congestion and inadequate public transportation. For Microsoft, it is imperative that employees are able to easily access the campus from all directions. Microsoft last year rolled out the Connector bus system to offer employees free, private and fast transportation with on-board wireless Internet from Seattle and other Eastside cities to the campus. Coupled with the on-campus shuttles, the Microsoft transportation system is helping limit the impact on traffic in Redmond, as well as providing a perk to employees.

    Enduring communities

    All factors of our equation — location, design and transportation — must be present in order for the model to be sustainable. For example, Beijing’s Haidian District would not support the Zhongguancun High-Tech Park if it were to lack Beijing and Tsinghua universities, an important element of its location. Redmond traffic would be crippled if Microsoft did not implement its shuttle buses and Connector bus system. Without quality design, the Shanghai Zhangjiang Semiconductor Research Park could not maintain its high lease/sales rate that it enjoys.

    The idea behind our three factors is the community offers to attract and retain talent through quality lifestyles with diverse options for living, working and playing.

    Ming Zhang, AIA, is a senior partner and the director of design at MulvannyG2 Architecture in Bellevue. He was named one of the 20 most influential designers in China by the Chinese Research Center for Urban Development and is overseeing the design of several projects in Seattle and China.


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