Haunted Stairwells, Gyms, Paper Airplane Launching Pads: Inside Google's New Playa Vista Offices

Courtesy of Google

Elected officials including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti were on hand for the official opening of the search giant's 450,000-square-foot office that was built in the famed Spruce Goose hangar in Playa Vista.

Some challenges require more than just logging on to the world’s largest search engine. 

Take, for example, the design and construction of Google’s new offices in Playa Vista: a four-story office built inside the historic Spruce Goose hangar, which is not only the size of six football fields, but is made almost entirely out of wood, making it arguably the city’s largest wick. 

Last month, the doors to Google’s offices quietly opened, and on Thursday, Google employees, the architects behind the design of the property, ZGF Architects; along with several elected officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and local Councilman Mike Bonin; and other guests were on hand for a limited tour of the space. Photos, even those taken by Android phones, were prohibited. 

At 450,000 square feet, the structure was at one point the largest all-wood structure in the world, and the space is packed with interesting design components that meld the old and the new while offering up relics of L.A. and Hollywood history (the hangar has been the setting for a handful of movies, including Titanic and Transformers, among others). It is replete with every office amenity that a Silicon Valley engineer can dream up: conference and phone rooms, several food spots, a fitness center, Instagram walls, a cafe, multiple art installations, a 250-person event space, elevated walkways and a perch from which bored Googlers can launch paper airplanes because, well, it’s Google. 

Upon entry, guests find themselves standing under a “perception sculpture” comprising 2,800 dangling metal spheres that to the naked eye appear like a raincloud. But when viewed through your smartphone’s camera, the sculpture magically snaps into relief as a quarter-scale model of the Spruce Goose plane.

As if that weren’t enough to draw your eyes upward, there are several dozen beautiful wooden “glu-lam” arches that climb the walls, which were built in 1943, when the hangar was originally created (the building was used by Howard Hughes to construct the H4 Hercules, known as the "Spruce Goose," which famously flew only once for less than a minute). A central “spine” divides the hangar into equal halves that are then subdivided into a variety of rooms and spaces. 

Google opened its first L.A. office in 2003, and has about 1,000 employees here. There are several hundred working out of the new space, most of whom moved down to Playa Vista from Google’s offices in Venice. It is unclear how many employees the space can hold, but the fact that the third floor is entirely unoccupied suggests that it is not close to capacity. (A Google spokesperson declined to comment on how many employees the company plans to move to the Playa Vista outpost.) 

To navigate the vast amount of space, there is a boardwalk-type path that meanders all the way up to the fourth floor. There are also multiple staircases — some of which are cordoned off and rumored to be haunted by one or several ghosts — and several pre-fab elevator ducts that were brought in and installed in a matter of days. Along the perimeter, if you look closely, you can still find small patches of green paint that was used as the original color of the hangar at the request of Hughes, who thought it was a soothing hue. Google apparently didn’t agree and had the entire hangar sand blasted back to the original color of the exposed wood (Douglas fir), a process that took several months. 

According to ZGF principal Kristi Paulson, the central mandate was to try and build an independent structure that could function inside the existing building, and subterranean structural metal plates proved a challenge. “We were dealing with all sorts of underground issues,” she said. 

Garcetti, who has made technology a central component of his administration, heralded the opening of the Google office as a leap forward for L.A.’s tech scene, known colloquially as "Silicon Beach." Garcetti also dismissed worries that the company’s increased presence in Playa Vista could prompt a backlash that would mirror the one the tech giant faced in Venice when a pocket of residents blamed Google for soaring home prices. 

“Venice is a place of intense land-use politics. It’s a blood sport there, so I don’t think that was Google. Some people create that narrative but it’s a false narrative,” he said. “There will always be people who blame something or someone for whatever they are suffering through — traffic or housing prices — but this is different than a smaller city where a huge company comes in and suddenly blows up (local costs). Our housing prices aren’t caused by tech companies, it’s caused by our not building enough (houses) for many years.”