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October 4, 2019

Google opens first block, with 2 buildings, in SLU

  • The company’s new offices have private alcoves and mixing spaces, along with mini kitchens and break areas for recharging or conferencing. More offices open on a neighboring block later this month.
    Real Estate Editor

    Photo by Brian Miller [enlarge]
    Google employees first moved in to their building at 620 Boren Ave. N. in August.

    What Vulcan Real Estate has called the Lakefront Blocks may soon become known, in the public mind, as the Google South Lake Union campus. Or maybe just the Google Blocks.

    In August, the first employees began settling into their desks at 620 Boren Ave. N. The press toured the building yesterday after an official opening ceremony that featured a typically ebullient Gov. Jay Inslee.

    Google says it now has about 4,500 employees in our state, and calls its Kirkland-Seattle base its second largest engineering hub outside the Bay Area. Google said in April that it had over 103,000 employees worldwide.

    Google won’t say how many employees will occupy the office space in what it terms four buildings on two blocks in SLU.

    A third Vulcan block to the west remains unclaimed, and a Vulcan executive didn’t share any plans for it. (Apartments and offices have previously been mentioned.) It’s now being used for GLY Construction’s staging for Google’s fifth building in SLU, aka the Guitar Center site, at 520 Westlake Ave. N. (GLY also built the first two Lakefront Blocks.)

    Is Google eyeing the vacant west block? “I’m not sure,” said the company’s Adam Gardner. “There’s a lot of growth.”

    Some Google staff are coming from the Fremont campus, which is being reduced. “We’re going to keep some of Fremont,” said Gardner.

    There it has (or had) somewhere between 140,000 and 200,000 square feet, mostly in Lake Union Center (aka the old Quadrant Lake Union Center, which dates to the mid-1990s).

    Photo by Brian Miller [enlarge]
    Pieces on a jigsaw-puzzle-like wall installation can be pulled out to reveal hidden trivia about Mount Rainer.

    And the company is growing in Kirkland. Its purchase of Kirkland Urban’s office space was also officially announced on Thursday — but not the price, which King County hasn’t yet recorded. Google only mentions the North and Central buildings there, not the third building that will break ground soon.

    And Google’s original campus in Kirkland, now with four buildings — and a fifth likely — will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” according to a press release.

    The company’s Eric Young said, “We do expect to continue to hold and occupy” that campus. No such assurances were offered for Fremont.

    Google has about 600,000 square feet in its four SLU buildings, which it names by their primary street frontage. They are Fairview and Boren (on the east block), and Valley and Mercer (on the middle block). For both blocks, the structural mass was divided by architect Graphite Design Group with alleys running in opposite directions. Thus, the east block is split on its north-south axis, and the middle block on its east-west axis. Underground parking, truck loading and bike stalls are accessed from the alleys.

    Vulcan’s two apartment complexes above the office space, Helm (middle block) and Mera (east block) are completely separate, including their elevators. They’re open and about 60% leased. Runberg Architecture Group is credited with their design. The office portions are six stories each; and the apartments reach a height of 14 and 15 stories. Vulcan appears to be leasing the ground-floor retail for both blocks on its own; none of that is occupied yet.

    Google’s middle-block offices will open later this month, and company representatives declined to specify a total number of workers on the two blocks — though anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 could fit, depending on how generous the amenity space is. (Hint: very.) Glassdoor now lists about 118 Google job openings in our region.

    Photo provided by Google [enlarge]
    A custom-made neon cloud installation refers to the work being done on that floor.

    During the opening remarks, Young said, “We have a responsibility to give back. We work really hard to be a good corporate citizen.” To that end, among other philanthropic efforts, a grant of $1 million was made on Thursday to Seattle Salvation Army for its William Booth Center in the International District, which provides transitional housing homeless men.

    Since 2011, Google says it’s given $35 million to state nonprofits and schools. It’s also donated free ads worth nearly $8.6 million to local nonprofits. The company estimates its net economic impact to the state is around $18.6 billion.

    Gov. Inslee said, “This is an iconic Washington state company. That’s how we think of it.” Google, based in Mountain View, California, opened its first Kirkland office in 2004. Inslee praised its “innovation culture” and said, “We want to be a partner with Google. This organization, this culture, is a perfect match.”

    Inslee said there are about 220,000 tech workers statewide, with plans to educate more future tech workers to hire. “The most important thing we can do is produce intellectual talent. They can all grow up and work at Google.”

    Speaking more generally of tech transplants like Apple, Facebook and Google, said Inslee, “We welcome talent from around the country and around the world.”

    The governor also took a moment to acknowledge the loss of construction workers’ and commuters’ lives in April’s tower crane collapse onto the east block and Mercer Street. Four died and several were injured in the accident, which is still being investigated by the state Department of Labor and Industries.

    Touring the new buildings, Google product mentioned most often was Cloud. Android, Maps and Chrome are also part of the engineering portfolio. For those engineers, open stairs are meant to encourage “casual collisions,” said Young. Facing one stair is a Northwest-themed mural by employee Daniel Ronlein.

    There are private alcoves and mixing spaces everywhere, along with mini kitchens and other break areas for recharging or conferencing. Formal conference rooms are named for various employee dogs (there are many).

    The goal, as at other new tech buildings in SLU, is “a separation of the common areas with the work stations” for what Gardner called “heads-down work.”

    Mithun’s clean lines and signage — which extends outside the building to useful wayfaring stations. Besides the usual nooks for personal calls or quiet work, and the maternity rooms, an alcove for old-fashioned printing on paper is signed “Wow. Many Print,” an allusion to the Shiba Inu internet doge meme.

    All of this organization — like Google’s indexing of the chaotic internet — is meant to reduce the “jumble of space,” per Gardner.

    One of the east block’s two large cafes, Nuage (“cloud” in French) has a strong Parisian bistro vibe, featuring crepes and baguettes (some sourced from Macrina). Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, and all the kitchen staff are Google employees, not subcontractors.

    The cafe has stunning views north to Lake Union — plus some outdoor seating, too. “We didn’t want to have private offices facing those views,” said Gardner, “which we’re still frankly getting used to.”

    The main cafe on the middle block will have a another milieu and menu. “Every one has a different theme,” said Gardner.

    Photo provided by Google [enlarge]
    The cafe has stunning views of Lake Union, plus some outdoor seating.

    “No two Google offices are ever alike,” said Young. To that end, Mithun designed the east block interiors with design cues taken from Google’s graphic interfaces — clean, simple and easy to navigate. Other design inspirations are Pacific Northwest innovations, e.g. the Eddie Bauer down jacket.

    Also to help navigate among the different floors, Gardner explained, is having a different wallpaper motif on each level. Thus, for example, on two there’s a two-dot pattern on the wallpaper. On three … you get the idea. Gardner said this was to help assist employees who often have their eyes locked down on their phones while walking through the building.

    A custom-made neon cloud installation indicates what work is being done on that floor. And for puzzle lovers, there’s a jigsaw-puzzle-like wall installation with orange triangles that can be pulled out to reveal hidden trivia about Mount Rainer. This, said Gardner, was to help Google’s many geographic transplants learn about their new home.

    NBBJ designed the interiors for the middle block, with more of a water-nature-organic theme, said Google. (NBBJ is also designing 520 Westlake, which should open in 2021 with about 322,000 square feet of offices.)

    Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet, will release its third quarter financial results on Oct. 28. Those may include the agreed-upon price for the roughly 400,000 square feet of office spaces in the north and central buildings at Kirkland Urban. Those can be sold separately as condominium units by Ryan Cos. and Talon Private Capital. The county assesses those two units at about $246 million.

    The south building, also with about 200,000 square feet of offices, will replace the old QFC. Google says it expects to move next spring into the central and north buildings; Tableau is also a tenant in the latter.

    The entire mixed-use Kirkland Union, when completed, will total about 1.2 million square feet of offices, apartments, retail, restaurants and a cinema.


    Brian Miller can be reached by email at brian.miller@djc.com or by phone at (206) 219-6517.

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