If it weren’t actually kind of adorable, Facebook’s devotion to the Texas/local theme in its new offices might seem a bit over the top.
We can assume that giant international tech companies, like hotel chains, put some design effort into localizing their spaces, in part to make those businesses seem more anchored in a particular place and more human-scaled. Whether it’s make tourists feel like they’re experiencing authenticity or to attract workers who want to feel at home, it’s just good business.
When your mayor kicks off the opening of the new offices of a major (if not the major) tech company with a paean to the city’s creativity and urges its occupants to “keep Facebook weird,” though, it can raise the question of who’s branding whom.
That was the case, if only for a tiny moment, at the grand opening of Facebook’s new downtown offices in the Third + Shoal building at 607 West Third Street Wednesday. In addition to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson and Austin Community College president and CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes spoke at the opening.
The company, which opened its first Austin office with seven employees in 2010, now employs more than 1,200 people in the city. With the expansion, the Austin location became Facebook’s fourth largest office.
It also takes up most of the space at the new Third + Shoal building (Bank of America is the other major tenant). Designed by national firm WRNS Studio and built by Houston’s Harvey-Cleary Builders (see Yeti’s headquarters and the new SXSW Center for more of their Austin work), the 29-story tower has 345,000 square feet of office space, and Facebook occupies more than 256,500 of it—floors 14-24, specifically, or 11 floors total, with room for at least 1,550 workers. Most of the company’s Austin employees are on the small business, community operations, human resources, or finance teams.
Homage is paid to both Austin and Texas in subtle and unsubtle ways throughout the offices—there’s a small stage setup for live music (and “Rockstar Photo Moments”) with a skyline backdrop and a neon welcome sign on the first of the company’s floors, a soundproofed jam room with a full band setup (and views), and a main dining hall called “Cookhouse” with a rustic decorative bent, festooned with paintings of longhorns, boots, and cacti.
Less florid but perhaps more evocative are the conference rooms named after professional Texas sportsball teams (you know, like the Cowboys, the Rangers, and the Mavericks—oh, and probably the Spurs and the Texans and the Rockets). The theme was both suggested and chosen in a vote by local Facebook employees. (There was no Austin FC room in easy sight, but it’s no doubt coming.)
Art and place
Most impressively, the offices feature 14 large works that came out of Facebook’s artist-in-residence program—including those of some longtime Austin artists such as Lance Letscher and Darden Smith (who’s also, naturally, a musician).
The new office “will support Facebook’s growth in Austin and help us attract people from the region’s tech community,” said Katherine Shappley, the company’s Austin head of office. “As we continue to grow here, we remain committed to being a good neighbor and having a positive impact on the community.”
In addition to creating the residencies and commissioning the artwork, the company has made spaces for local vendor pop-ups and service-type amenities for its employees (massages, goat yoga) from Austin businesses.
Other amenities in the new space include three full-service kitchens and 10 microkitchens (as well as grab-and-go food), free laundry services, a shipping center, a fitness center, and a rec room. There are also libraries and reading nooks everywhere and a bazillion (actually, 10) outdoor decks and terraces with pleasant furniture and outstanding views.
There are locker rooms and plenty of bicycle storage in the new spaces, as well as a free vending-type machine where cyclists can get items such as tire tubes to keep their bikes in good repair. Shappley credits Facebook’s cycling club for the idea, as well as for providing some inspiration to get employees to use more “active” forms of transportation, as she put it, to get to and from work; she said that more than 50 percent of the company’s employees do so. Facebook also provides employees with Capital Metro passes and works with the regional transportation authority and transit management association Movability to facilitate workers’s commutes, whatever the method.
The project is also undertaking LEED Gold certification, a verification process that takes several months. According to Jonas Kellner, an associate and project architect at WRNS, the building uses low-flow fixtures and a graywater system to reduce water use, energy-efficient lighting and controls to do the same for electric use, and healthy and recycled materials to reduce raw material consumption and waste.
In a fun bit of tech-boom irony, Facebook’s new digs are situated directly across the street from the downtown tower Google currently occupies. There, up in the air, facilities teams from the two companies communicate with each other—not with texts, or IMs or Slack, but with Post-Its, used to create letters and images on the windows large enough for people inside the building across the way to read. It’s IRL, it’s analog, and it’s supremely, sweetly hyperlocal.
This story has been updated with new images of artwork.