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Google opens New York headquarters in repurposed 1930s railway terminal

By Christy Choi, CNN

(CNN) — Google is set to open its New York headquarters in a repurposed 1930s railway terminus near Hudson Square on Monday — and the tech giant says the project was designed with nature in mind.

The 12-story St. John’s Terminal building, located at the nexus of Hudson River Park, the West Village, SoHo and Tribeca, is being billed as a “workplace designed for teams,” but it’s also providing a new home for local flora and fauna.

With 1.5 acres of street-level vegetation, rail bed gardens and terraces that are 95% made up of plants native to New York State, the habitat created by the project has attracted more than 40 bird species, “including birds fueling up for a trans-Atlantic migratory flight,” wrote Google’s president for Americas and Global Business, Sean Downey, in an open letter on Wednesday.

“It’s actually re-knitting the ecosystem, from the insects to the birds,” said Rick Cook, a founding partner at CookFox Architects, one of the design firms behind the project, in an introductory video published by Google.

Once at the end of the railway now forming New York’s High Line, St. John’s Terminal served as a freight facility and office space. The renovation retained the original rail beds, turning them into planters that hang above the building’s main entrance, and incorporated wood reclaimed from the Coney Island boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy. Google said that the decision to repurpose an old building, rather than constructing its new headquarters from scratch, saved 78,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (equivalent to taking around 17,000 cars off the road for a year). The tech giant also claimed it had prevented 77% of its construction waste from ending up in landfills.

The complex is one of several Google offices built in renovated structures, including a converted flour mill in Dublin, a former aircraft hangar in LA’s Playa Vista neighborhood and Pier 57, once a New York City shipping terminal, that is now part of the broader 1.7-million-square foot Hudson Square Google complex. The tech firm also recently converted the nearby Chelsea Market, purchased for $2.4 billion in 2018, into a retail and office development.

Google began leasing the St. John’s Terminal site in 2019, and bought it outright in 2022 for $2.1 billion. The building, which is now the company’s largest outside California, serves as a headquarters for Google’s Global Business Organization, which includes the firm’s sales and partnership teams.

The renovation project was commissioned in 2018, before the Covid-19 pandemic, but its final design was later adapted to offer more flexible work arrangements. Google, like many large corporations in America, is trying to entice workers back to the office, and the new campus — whose interiors were designed by international architecture studio Gensler — is being heralded by the tech giant as a place to connect and innovate.

“If you’re going to make that commute in, it should be because you can work with people that have passion, that have ideas, that you can sit next to and come up with something that you couldn’t do just on your own, and that’s really the vision of this space,” said Downey in a video introducing the new campus.

The building can accommodate around 3,000 workers and is organized into 60 “neighborhoods” for teams of around 20 to 50 people. There are no assigned desks but instead workers can use flexible seating areas or shared spaces including lounges, cafes, terraces and micro-kitchens.

“Creativity wants to move around, so we’ve created as much common spaces as we have neighborhood space, if not more, for people to meet, to work, to collaborate,” said Jennifer Kelly, a vice president of workplace experience, in the same video. “Some feel like a library, some feel like a coffee shop, so people have options to use spaces that they feel most comfortable in.”

There are currently more than 14,000 Google employees in New York, up from 7,000 when the company announced the St. John’s Terminal project in 2018, despite sweeping layoffs across several divisions earlier in this year. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also slashed around 12,000 jobs — then around 6% of its workforce — at the beginning of 2023.

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