Monday, April 28, 2014

HIgh Tech Corporate Responsibility

Hello Everyone:

These days, it seems that every tech company wants our smartphone business and South Korean giants Samsung and LG are no exception.  As if the daily media assault wasn't enough, now both companies are fighting it out to see who can be the best corporate citizen.  Michael Kimmelman's recent article, "Corporate Design: An Energizer Versus an Eyesore," for the The New York Times looks at the design merits of Samsung's new American headquarters in north San Jose, California and LG's headquarters in Englewood Cliff, New Jersey and evaluates how the buildings are interacting with their surrounding environment.  After all, Mr. Kimmelman points out, "Buildings are corporate symbols and advertisements..."  According to Mr. Kimmelman's assessment of how the competition is going, Samsung is winning the good corporate citizen race.

Samsung American Headquarters
San Jose, California
Samsung's 1.1 million-square-foot North American headquarters broke ground in July 2013, designed by the firm NBBJ, and is expected to be completed by 2015.  The campus is a sleek glass mammoth-like box that references the seventies-era office park.  The building is divided into three horizontal bands, each featuring a rooftop landscaped deck. Mr. Kimmelman observes that the continuous bands riffs Norman Foster's doughnut-shaped Apple headquarters in nearby Cupertino, California with its "...big, curving atriums; here the concept is based on traditional Korean courtyard design."  The building connects to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority System, the light
Apple Corporate Headquarters
Norman Foster
Cupertino, California
rail system that services the city of San Jose and fits nicely into the street grid.  The Samsung headquarters is also ecologically minded with its standard-issue green roof and green walls.  Its also urban-minded by Silicon Valley standards with public gardens, plazas, and a cafe near the parking garage, partially hidden by solar panels.

On the other side of the United States, LG's new $300 million, 490,000 square-foot campus is designed to rise 143 feet above the palisades of Englewood Cliffs, which have been designated a National Natural Landmark.  To give you some idea, the campus will rise several stories above the tree line.  This is quite contrary to the fact that the site is
LG American Headquarters
Englewood Cliff, NJ
zoned to prohibit any building taller than thirty-five feet high, which protects the view.  However, the company, a large contributor to the local economy, won a variance to build taller.  LG is quick to point out that the corporate headquarters is on private land, a quarter-mile from the cliffs, which earned approval from the city, Bergen County, and the State of New Jersey and that other taller buildings across the Hudson (i.e. New York) are visible.  Sounds like childish whining to me.

Recently, senior New York Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), lent his voice to the growing number of protestors of the project.  Senator Schumer, stated in a news release, "After more than a century of both New York and New Jersey working to preserve the unparalleled natural beauty of the Palisades, one company should not be permitted to sweep in and taint that iconic landscape, particularly when an alternate building plan exists."  These remarks followed a request made by Mr. Schumer to New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to ask an appeals court in New Jersey to halt construction.  Nearly a dozen conservation groups have also filed briefs with the court as well as four New Jersey mayors representing towns near the Palisades and Englewood Cliffs.  The mayors said, "It was their 'public trust' to protect the view."

In the beginning of April, Rose Harvey, New York Parks Commissioner, pleaded directly with LG to reconsider their plans.  Four former New Jersey governors have penned separate letters to the company, noting that "the Palisades have remained a landscape of unbroken, natural beauty in a heavily developed metropolitan area" for over a century and suggested a different design.  However, LG will not reconsider their plans and shorten the building on the 27-acre site with a wider footprint that won't tower over the trees.  In a statement on its website, LG claimed, "A redesign of the building will severly delay the economic and community benefits the new building will bring to the region...New Jersey needs jobs now."  Basically, it the same old developer song and dance.

HOK, the architectural firm of record, has designed a corporate headquarters that includes an 85,000 square-foot solar array, 700 new trees and a landscaped parking.  Michael Kimmelman uses the analogy of explaining to your neighbors that the ear-splitting music blasting away twenty-four hours is made from recycled parts.  Views, especially in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, are extremely hard to protect.  They cross jurisdictional lines and the City of Englewood Cliffs want the LG building.  In the larger context, Americans might have to seriously reconsiders views and how to protect them.  Mr. Kimmelman speculates that the LG project will sour countless customers by destroying a cherished National Landmark.  Mr. Kimmelman muses that it might lead LG's customers to their competitor, Samsung.  That might not go over too well with LG corporate heads.  Perhaps this was part of Samsung's rationale in planning their San Jose, California campus?

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