Google's overbearing cool leaves creativity out in the cold
THE OTHER day I took part in an event at the spanking new Google headquarters in Covent Garden. Like the company’s other offices, this one caters for every need that fashionable young people allegedly have, with its dance studio, luminous orange shower rooms and allotments for growing vegetables.
“It’s simply awesome,” is the verdict of the designers, Penson. This seems a little immodest but at least it is accurate. The office is awesome – in much the same way as a vengeful god is. Within five minutes of gliding up in the lift, my heart was filled with wonder – and terror.
Before the talk we were ushered into a windowless room that was a cross between a padded cell in a lunatic asylum and an anteroom in a brothel.
There was no window, and the deeply buttoned emerald green sofas matched the walls, which were also padded right up to the ceiling.
The door was locked with a wheel as if we were on a ship, and once inside I started to feel so anxious I had to beg to be let out again.
In the communal areas it was more airy but no less oppressive. Assorted fringed lampshades hung from the ceiling. There was much clashing flock wallpaper, and an ironic AstroTurf croquet lawn. There were rocking chairs and high-backed armchairs. Nothing was the same as anything else. And everywhere were these strange padded walls. I can only suppose they are a safety measure designed to stop people driven so mad by the try-hard pretentiousness of it all from hurting themselves when they bang their heads against them.
The overall look, according to the spec, is “granny flat”, which set me wondering again. Why design a hugely expensive modern office to look like your granny’s flat unless it’s because you have no time to visit the woman herself and so need some other way of remembering her?
Despite these puzzles, one thing is clear. Google wants all visitors to conclude that it is individual, quirky, fun, creative and, above all, deeply cool.
Such showing off is a variation on traditional HQ one-upmanship, which has involved competing by the quantity of marble on display to prove power and invincibility. Google’s effort is equally unsubtle, and even less successful.
The great thing about cool – as every rich but ostracised schoolchild can tell you – is that money alone can’t buy it.
The biggest problem with the office is not just that it is hideous.