On a long, thin sliver of land between the railway tracks in King's Cross, where rusting gasometers and soot-caked sheds once stood, a multi-storey pleasure palace will soon rise out of the ground.
Complete with climbing wall, indoor football pitch and a rooftop swimming pool, this is not a new leisure centre for the people of Camden, but Google's spanking new £1bn London headquarters – designed to make going to work feel like an exciting day out.
"The idea is that the people who are in the building – not the tenant but the actual staff – need to be attracted to the building," Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the project's architects, said in a presentation. "They need to like the community of the building."
Stretching 300 metres along a new street, carved out between King's Cross and St Pancras stations, the new HQ will stand like a vast ocean liner run aground.
Scheduled for completion in 2016, it will house 93,000sq m of office space within its 11 storeys – enough for 4,500 busy Googlers, twice the number currently employed in the company's two London offices.
From the outside, there is little of the hedonistic southern Californian pizzazz that you might expect. The building is formed from a simple grid of concrete-framed windows, held aloft above a row of shops on a steel frame, painted in Google's brand colours. But within, the architects promise a "looped three-dimensional promenade" of floors, linked with a snaking ramp that will allow employees to cycle all the way into the building.
"We've talked with Google about theatre, stage set and props," Allford said. "The building is the theatre. It lasts 100 years. The stage set is the auditorium. It lasts 20 years and is a building within the building. The props are things like the little meeting rooms, the furniture, all this, which ideally you could reconfigure overnight."
In keeping with the company's self-image as a dynamic, open network in constant flux, the building is conceived as a flexible armature, to be inhabited by a changing landscape of beanbags and thinkpods, laptop stations and the occasional static desk.
It is a model honed at the Googleplex in California, a sprawling series of low-lying sheds that accommodate a freeform world of volleyball courts and yurt-shaped meeting rooms, dotted with 19 cafes, 60 snack kitchens, a bowling alley and two outdoor swimming pools. Not to mention the minigolf putting green.
The reason for structuring the office environment as a hybrid pleasurescape of youth club and holiday camp, says Google, is to "encourage casual collisions of the workforce". As they bump into each other on their micro-scooters and splash around in the pool, employees will always have a laptop or tablet on hand nearby, for the creative encounter to be channelled into monetisable productivity.
"You come to a city to meet people who aren't like you, who have different ways of seeing the world," says Allford. "The street life is incredibly important for why you live in a city. Taking that idea of life into the building, the social space will make what Google calls positive friction. You want people to get to their desk and do work, you want them to get around, but you don't want them to miss each other."
And, if you're forced to have three meals a day in the office, it might as well be fun.
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