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Silicon Valley giants' 'trendy' offices pushing European demand for hip digs

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Silicon Valley giants' 'trendy' offices pushing European demand for hip digs

The alternative office design fostered by Silicon Valley giants such as Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. has sparked demand among more traditional large corporations in Europe for similarly styled offices with the same sort of amenities and services, according to leading market figures.

An audience at EXPO Real, a trade fair for property and investment, heard that investors were increasingly fielding requests from occupiers for less traditional office spaces that promote fluid working environments and make employees feel more at home. Silicon Valley companies' offices have become renowned for their unusual features, such as a wifi-enabled wildflower meadow at Facebook and a putting green at Samsung.

One of the factors influencing the trend is the competition for talent between the tech companies and more traditional large corporations, said Zinaida Vojnar, international business director for HB Reavis Group, a large office developer in Europe, which she said has over 10 million square feet of office space in development.

"[Silicon Valley office design is] very trendy and tenants and companies pick up on that and want to have offices like Google that give that home feeling," she said during the panel discussion Oct. 5. "There are all these stories and myths about Google and Facebook and these really cool offices: That can become kind of a selling tool on the labor market. The traditional corporates are waking up and thinking, 'Maybe we have to change.'"

Colm Lauder, senior real estate analyst at Irish investment bank Goodbody, which works with Irish office real estate investment trusts Hibernia REIT Plc and Green REIT Plc, said the trend toward including features such as free restaurants, gyms and cinema rooms had a much more practical purpose beyond simply benefiting the well-being of employees. "If the staff have all these facilities, if they're made to feel more at home, [then] they spend more time in the office, they work longer hours, they're more productive. So there is a clear rationale coming through [from this design trend], which is obviously benefiting on the bottom line as well."

However, the Silicon Valley tech giants are in danger of taking this office aesthetic too far, warned Eric Parry, founder of Eric Parry Architects, which is designing the 1 Undershaft building in central London, set to become the United Kingdom's second-tallest tower after The Shard. "The point at which a large occupier starts to create — like Google or Apple — a campus, smacks in my mind of gated communities," he said, referring to the companies' massive new headquarters complexes in San Francisco.

"There becomes a point at which the company, in terms of its own internal organization, becomes like Big Brother," he said, referring to the all-controlling organization of George Orwell's 1984. "[Campus office buildings] defeat the richness of the [architectural] context and the setting and the city. You can go too far in terms of confusing the role that the interior of an office building has," he said.