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The likes of Apple, Google and Facebook influence the lives of billions around the world every day.
Their platforms make it easy to assume that all of our searching, uploading, downloading, liking, streaming and purchasing is happening in the ether; in some form of virtual world or “cloud” that exists in the air around us.
In truth, their operations require huge physical support infrastructures; vast built assets that are delivered by the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. Here we take a look at some of the most prominent construction projects commissioned by well-known tech-giants, from data centers in the Arctic, to “gigafactories” in the Nevada desert.
5 – FACEBOOK DATA CENTER, LULEÅ, SWEDEN
First-up is Facebook’s vast data center in Luleå, northern Sweden.
Completed in 2013, the facility was Facebook’s first data center constructed outside the United States and its location was selected for three reasons:
Firstly, Luleå is positioned just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle with an average winter temperature of -20 degrees Celsius. The building uses industrial-scale fans to draw in the cold Arctic air and cool its servers.
Above: The stark interior of Facebook's Luleå data center and Below: The large fans used to draw in cool Arctic air (images courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg / Facebook).
Whilst still using energy to drive the fans, this approach is significantly much more efficient and environmentally friendly than the extensive air conditioning systems found in older centers. It also moves Facebook closer to their aim of running all their data centers on 50% clean and renewable energy by 2018.
"The building uses industrial-scale fans to draw in the cold Arctic air and cool its servers"
Secondly, the location was chosen for its energy supply. Historically, Sweden built a number of hydro-electric dams for its steel, iron ore and paper/pulp industries. These sectors have since declined, leaving a significant power surplus in the northern part of the country that Facebook are now helping to soak up.
Sweden is also one of the most stable places in the world; seismic activity is extremely low and its last formal war was in 1814.
Above: The data center was completed in 2013 (image courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg / Facebook).
Commenting on the facility, Facebook’s Vice President of Infrastructure Tom Furlong said that: “Architecturally, these are big buildings. They are not the Shard in London or the Freedom Tower in New York, but as buildings put up for a purpose they are pretty darn good.”
4 – SAMSUNG US HEADQUARTERS, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
In at number four is Samsung with their new US headquarter building in San Jose. At over 1.1 million square feet (equivalent to around 102,000 square meters) the facility is the largest office in North America (source).
Its wafer-like form is inspired by the composition of a microchip and its open-air levels create green breakout spaces for reflection, relaxation and development of wellbeing.
Above and Below: Samsung's new home in San Jose, California (images courtesy of Tim Griffith [above] and Sean Airhart [below]).
The building is split into two divisions – one focusing on research and development, and the other on sales – and goes out of its way to try and entice the very best talent in Silicon Valley’s highly competitive recruitment market.
3 – GOOGLE UK HEADQUARTERS, LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM
Next up is Google’s widely-publicised new UK headquarter campus, due to be constructed in London.
The project is a significant undertaking and Google’s announcement and decision to build in the UK makes them one of the largest organisations to select the country for a headquarter site since it voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
Above: The proposed site for Google's new London HQ (image courtesy of Google).
The project has been on the cards for a while but suffered a delay when the previous design proposals (pictured) were rejected by Google’s Larry Page for being “too boring”.
The re-design is now in the hands of Britain’s Thomas Heatherwick and renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels; the same duo chosen to devise Google’s new global headquarters in California.
Above: This earlier design was dismissed by Google's Larry Page for being "too boring" (image courtesy of AHMM).
2 – APPLE CAMPUS II, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
Just missing our top spot is Apple’s sprawling new campus under construction in Cupertino.
The vast site will feature research and development facilities, a fitness center, a bus station, a visitor center and seven cafés; one standing three-storeys high and catering for up to 3,000 staff. Extensive use of underground parking creates wide open green spaces, again trying to attract and retain Silicon Valley’s top tech talent.
Above: The new 1,000-seater auditorium under construction. The space is set to house Apple's product launches (image courtesy of Apple).
Once completed, the site is set to be entirely powered by renewable energy, making it one of the world’s greenest developments.
At the core of the campus is a 1,000 seater auditorium set to host Apple’s famous product launches, and the vast main-ring office building (where the majority of staff are set to be housed) that measures a mile around.
1 – TESLA GIGAFACTORY, NEVADA, UNITED STATES
Taking our top spot is Tesla’s aptly named “Gigafactory” currently under construction in the Nevada desert and set to become the single largest building on earth once completed.
Above: The site of Tesla's new Gigafactory in the Nevada desert (image courtesy of Electrek).
Tesla expect to be manufacturing half a million electric cars a year by the end of the decade, a rate that would require today’s entire worldwide production of lithium ion batteries. In Tesla’s words the factory was “born out of necessity” and will provide enough batteries to cover their expected demand for cars once operating at full capacity.
"Tesla's Gigafactory is set to become the single largest building on earth once completed"
Powered by renewable energy, the Gigafactory optimises battery production by bringing almost every stage of the process under one roof. The economies of scale are expected to reduce the cost per kilowatt hour of Tesla’s battery packs by up to 30%.
A sister factory is being mooted at an as-yet undisclosed location in Europe.
Above: How the factory will appear once finished (image courtesy of Tesla).
Just missing out on our Top 5 countdown but of course worthy of mention are Amazon’s network of enormous fulfilment centers around the world, that almost operate as small towns in their own right, and Google’s very colourful and on-brand data center in Douglas County Georgia in the United States.
Amazon's network of fulfillment centers (above) and Google's data center in Douglas County, Georgia (below) narrowly missed out on our top 5 list (images courtesy of Amazon [above] and Google / Connie Zhou [below]).
This video was kindly powered by Viewpoint.
WATCH NEXT: TOP 5 MASSIVE CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS
Images courtesy of Above Reno, AHMM, Sean Airhart, Amazon, Apple, Electrek, Facebook, Foster + Partners, Google, The Node Pole, Tim Griffith, Tesla, Connie Zhou and Mark Zuckerberg.
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