Facebook's Quirky Real Estate Tale

MENLO PARK, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Newly public social networking phenomenon Facebook ( FB) recently capped an eventful few months by revealing an ambitious expansion of its already sprawling campus in Silicon Valley.

A cross between an aircraft hangar and a vast urban park, the approximately 433,555-square-foot building was described by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the "largest open floor plan in the world."In a status update, Zuckerberg said that the new campus will be "the perfect engineering space: one giant room that fits thousands of people, all close enough to collaborate together."

Situated on the other side of the Bayfront Expressway from the company's headquarters, the 22-acre West Campus, formerly home to Tyco Electronics, will eventually house 2,800 Facebook engineers. Acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, the man behind the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, will design the building.

"The Frank Gehry building is getting us back to our roots and getting us back to a building that represents Facebook," explained Slater Tow, a Facebook spokesman, during an interview at the company's headquarters. "Up until we moved here we were based mainly out of one room in Palo Alto -- that has always been how we have worked."

Facebook completed its move to its 57-acre HQ, known as its East Campus, in late 2011, taking over a cluster of buildings previously occupied by Sun Microsystems.

In a recent blog post, Facebook's environmental design manager, Everett Katigbak, noted that the new campus will somewhat resemble a warehouse. "Everyone will sit out in the open with desks that can be quickly shuffled around as teams form and break apart around projects," he wrote. "There will be cafes and lots of micro-kitchens with snacks so that you never have to go hungry. And we'll fill the building with break-away spaces with couches and whiteboards to make getting away from your desk easy."

The new campus, however, will boast a highly unusual exterior, with Facebook turning the building's roof into a park, complete with long walking trail and a field.

"It's a fully functional rooftop garden -- it's going to be really cool," explained Facebook's Tow, noting that the campus will push the green envelope. "We're basically going to plant a forest around the ground level -- it's almost like this building is peeking out of the forest."

While the West Campus is still at the planning stage, Facebook offered TheStreet a tour of the company's East Campus this week, providing a glimpse into life at one of America's highest-profile companies.

The first thing you notice after entering the campus is that its buildings flank a sort of "main street," complete with cafes and a subsidized branch of the popular West Coast coffee haunt Philz Coffee. A Mexican restaurant and a sushi restaurant will also be opening, further adding to the atmosphere of a Silicon Valley village.

Clearly, no one would ever starve at Facebook. TheStreet visited the Epic Café, one of the company's two main cafes, which offered a vast array of free food for employees. The roomy and well-lit space, which would not have looked out of place in Tribeca, was crafted by design gurus Roman and Williams, the team behind New York's Ace Hotel.

Larger than I imagined, the nine buildings that make up the campus house around 2,500 employees and have a combined floor space of more than 1 million square feet. There was also a decent amount of activity on the day I visited as Facebookers strolled or cycled the site's main thoroughfare.

"Walking meetings are very common," noted Facebook's Tow. "It's a very, very mobile culture."

Facebook even provides a number of treadmill desks, just in case employees need to combine their work and exercise schedules.

The company's famous quirkiness was evident across the campus, from a "yellow brick road: outside Philz Coffee to the "bike doctor" on hand to fix employees' bikes. A bike store is also set to open at the site.

Hacker Square, the site of the company's "hackathons," its famous all -night coding and corporate brainstorming efforts, forms the hub of the facility. Four massive black letters, apparently visible from space, spell out the word "hack" across the square.

Facebook plans to break ground on its campus expansion in early 2013 and expects to conclude the project in 2015. An underground tunnel will link the East and West campuses.

Earlier this week, Zuckerberg said that Facebook is looking to move into search. Speaking at the TechCrunch conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, the CEO explained that "there's a big opportunity for us in search, we just have to find it."

Facebook's shares have tumbled more than 45% since the company's headline-grabbing IPO in May. The company's stock closed down 1.04% at $20.71 on Thursday.

--Written by James Rogers in Menlo Park.

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