Silicon Valley’s super-rich tech companies have found a new way to compete: which of them can come up with the coolest new headquarters?

With the unveiling of a new, adaptive building style that it says will have the capacity to evolve over decades, Google on Friday made its own bid for architectural immortality, following Apple and Facebook.

Silicon Valley’s functional but characterless office parks have become something of an embarrassment as the homes of some of the world’s most powerful companies. When Google moved into the buildings vacated by workstation company Silicon Graphics (which subsequently filed for bankruptcy), adding a beach volleyball court and an outdoor cafe were about the best it could do to add new life to the bland surroundings.

Facebook did something similar when it took over the former digs of Sun Microsystems, re-imagining the sparse and vacant chasm between two rows of office buildings as a busy street-scene, created with the help of Walt Disney designers.

But these were merely cosmetic enhancements. Now as, they create almost city-scale facilities for the techno-elite, the tech giants are having a more fundamental rethink (one indication of the scale: Facebook now controls 3.5m sq ft of office space on 200 acres in Menlo Park, a short hop from Google’s Mountain view headquarters, according to Cushman & Wakefield).

Google’s plan revolves around creating large, temporary structures that can be expanded or moved as needs change.

Nature, both inside the greenhouse-like structures and surrounding them, plays a big part in the vision of the architects, BIG and Heatherwick Studio.

Google recently acquired an extra parcel of land alongside its headquarters, giving it much of the land that lies between they busy highway 101 and the San Francisco Bay. In the imagination of Google’s architects, this would become a green oasis, secluded from the traffic that has become a blight on the area – with only the occasional self-driving car to disturb the bucolic calm.

The emphasis on bringing green back to Silicon Valley (the region was little more than a strip of fruit orchards before the techies arrived) also figures prominently in new headquarters plans by Facebook and Apple. The social networking site’s latest expansion, in fact, almost disappears under an arboreal roof:

It is unlikely, however, that any of these projects will be able to compete in terms of sheer aesthetics with Apple’s new donut-shaped headquarters. Conceived while Steve Jobs was still alive, its curved glass walls are set to become the emblem of a tech industry at the height of its power and self-confidence.

How these monuments to the 21st century’s first business boom will come to be seen decades from now is anyone’s guess. But for now, let the architectural battles begin.

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