When Samsung came to Silicon Valley in 1983, it was in a nondescript, two-story, brown building. This week, on the same site, it unveiled a massive new state-of-the-art, 10-story US headquarters for its Device Solutions businesses (memory, storage systems, displays, and semiconductors). As part of its grand opening, we got to tour the facility, speak with the architects about the project, and take plenty of photos to share with you.
Before you even leave the parking structure, you realize that the new building is designed to be a showpiece as much as a work-a-day office building. The lawns (all watered with recycled water) provide a welcome relief from the mostly asphalt surroundings of the industrial section of North San Jose where the facility is located.
The very angular outside of the structure also belies the flowing curves found inside the new 1.1 million square-foot, LEED-certified structure.
The large interior courtyard is not only gorgeous, but is deliberately designed to improve collaboration. Looking out or across from one of the open-air garden floors, employees are more likely to see others that they might not otherwise run into. Architects NBBJ ran simulations of various building designs using avatars, to come up with one that would maximize employee interactions — working to deliver on one of Samsung’s core values of collaboration.
I share their enthusiasm for the idea, but with mid-day light creating dark shadows, I’m not sure how many employees will recognize each other from across the courtyard.
The building features stunning views from nearly every floor. At ten stories, it dwarfs all the other nearby structures, giving it an unbroken line of sight to the mountains on both sides of Silicon Valley. Samsung is right that this is definitely a plus in terms of quality of work environment, compared with many of the “tilt-up” structures that populate most of Silicon Valley.
The building is currently home to about 700 Samsung employees, but can accommodate as many as 2,000.
As befits a modern workplace, the building has a workout facility with just about every exercise machine imaginable. The view can’t be beat either, as the entire facility is arranged around the outside of one of the open floors.
Not everyone loves open floor plans, but they have become much more popular (again) in high-tech. There is no question they facilitate collaboration compared with walled offices. Of course, companies like them because they are much more flexible. One other advantage is that everyone gets great views, since they aren’t cut off by walls.
Samsung has also provided some two-story open areas like the one pictured, with internal staircases. That too is designed to aid in casual collaboration, as are the many lounge and work areas scattered throughout the building. I was disappointed to see that the work areas had only traditional-sized whiteboards. One innovation I’ve seen and used very effectively is whiteboard walls.
No tech tour would be complete without a lab visit. Here we got to see Samsung’s Enterprise Test lab –where storage devices are run in a variety of vendor systems before release — along with a preview of its 16TB SSD and the test system with their new 1 million IOPS solid-state storage device. Notice that even the test machines get a great view!
One of the design goals of the new building is to facilitate collaboration between floors. So, sandwiched between each pair of regular work floors (on the 5th and 8th floors) is what Samsung calls a garden floor. They feature actual gardens, and plenty of open walking space on both the North and South tower sides, as well as crossings between them.
Samsung hasn’t quite gone all out in embracing the “you can have anything you want” free-food-and-drink culture of Google and Facebook. Snacks and sundries are for sale in a small convenience store. Employees do get one free meal a day in the cafeteria, and the rest are subsidized 50%.
No longer do high-tech employees have to head off to a bar to play pool or Foosball. Like many companies, Samsung provides a wide variety of leisure activities on site. This is particularly important in areas like North First Street in San Jose, which are definitely not pedestrian-friendly, and where there aren’t many food or recreation alternatives close by.
No more napping under your desk. Samsung has installed “sleep pods” for those times when you just can’t stay awake while waiting for your simulation to finish or the sun to come up. Our host didn’t know quite how they worked, but they are right next to the Foosball tables, so I hope the glass is really soundproof.
As you’d expect, there is an extensive set of charging stations for electric vehicles — helpfully labelled “clean air vehicle.” The facility is also near San Jose’s Light Rail, which is a good thing, because traffic at rush hour is pretty terrible around there.
The highlight of an otherwise run-of-the-mill ribbon cutting ceremony was a performance by music-and-dance troupe Eclipse. Samsung may be in the press a lot recently for financial problems, but you wouldn’t have known it from the new headquarters building or the grand opening celebration. Clearly the troupe customized their performance, as here in the concluding scene they have Samsung’s motto projected on the big screen behind them.
The architects at NBBJ did an excellent job of combining inward-looking views that could feature the gardens, lawns, and trees that Samsung has added to the site with external vistas off into the mountains. Since the building itself is surrounded mostly by not very attractive industrial structures, this was an especially-challenging task. I do wonder how the feel of the building will change if other corporations start putting up equally-tall buildings nearby.
This view is back from one of the garden floors to the cafeteria building and parking structure.
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