Google Plans “Grand Central Station” Campus in San Jose: BBC Report

Google Plans “Grand Central Station” Campus in San Jose: BBC Report

In San Francisco, the tech community continues to face an angry backlash for pushing out locals, artists and the elderly. Meanwhile, 50 miles south, Google has announced plans to partner with the City of San Jose to build a tech village dubbed “The Grand Central Station of the West.” Experts see this South Bay development as a way for Google to “do it right” and build an inclusive development around a transport hub with lots of public open space and affordable housing.

Why are some people calling it a new template for the tech campus?  Alison van Diggelen reports on a tale of tech in two cities for the BBC World Service…

Photo captionGoogle plans to rethink office space in Silicon Valley and use large translucent canopies to blur the distinction between buildings and nature. Source: Google (Charleston Rendering)

Listen to the podcast at the BBC World Service

Or listen to the segment below, introduced by the BBC’s Bill Thompson (report starts at 0:40):


Here’s a transcript of the report. It aired today on the BBC’s program, Click

[Atmos: Train, bus atmos at Diridon station, in downtown San Jose]

Glen Abbott: If the same tech gentrification happens in Santa Clara, which it is…’cos Google just bought up what’s available in Santa Clara, it just sends the housing prices up… people can’t afford to live here..

San Jose resident (retired union organizer): I am in support of anything that will bring jobs with dignity and a living wage … and we don’t just import a bunch of high dollar, high tech electronic gurus into our area…

Alison van Diggelen: These are just two of San Jose’s residents who have concerns at the proposed development benefiting rich techies, to the detriment of the wider community. One lives in a trailer park, one has been homeless.

This summer, Google announced a plan to create a massive campus for up to 20,000 employees in San Jose’s city center, the South Bay city that calls itself “The capital of Silicon Valley.” Google’s vice president of real estate outlined the company’s vision for the Diridon Station development at a council meeting…

Mark Golan: South Bay has been Google’s home for over 20 years now. We have thousands of Googlers who’re residents of San Jose. Google shares the City’s vision for the development of the Diridon area. …we are excited about the possibility of bringing a state of the art office, housing, retail, amenities, civic plazas, parks, and open spaces to the downtown San Jose area, all connected via an incredible mass transit system and integrated with the surrounding community.

Kim Walesh is the Director of Economic Development at the city. She laments that the tech boom means Silicon Valley’s roads are often gridlocked and sees a solution in public transport.

Visualization of HSR San Jose by CA HSR Authority

Photo: Visualization of HSR San Jose by California High Speed Rail Authority (image is preliminary and subject to change) 

Kim Walesh: Google will be the first major tech company to consciously decide to grow near transit. It’s an opportunity to get it right…a counterpoint to traditional Silicon Valley campus development – a human scale, urban place….we’re not even calling it a campus. That can connote inward looking like Facebook or Apple.

This is a totally different concept it says: Let’s put our innovation employees right in the heart of downtown in an open campus environment with well designed parks and plazas for all sorts of people to enjoy and interact. That’s where innovation comes from…

Bob Staedler of Silicon Valley Synergy is an expert in tech developments and a frequent advisor to the City Council. He describes this Grand Central Station vision…

Staedler: You’re going to have a multi-modal transport hub that could be 150 feet up in the air, having four separate modes of transportation from bus to high speed rail, to light rail to Uber drop-off to traditional cars, and a campus integrated in there…

technology integrated into it like you’ve never seen before: you walk in and you see where exactly is the train on a map; and you see with technology where you go with light up boards, similar to what you see in Singapore and Tokyo….a 21st century transit station …

Staedler contrasts the open nature of Google’s proposed campus to that of Facebook’s Headquarters which is a high security island. As for Apple’s brand new campus, 10 miles north?

Staedler: Apple has created the spaceship as they call it, it’s really more of a fortress monument, a monument to Steve Jobs. What we’re looking at with Google is creating an urban fabric with employees and the population and the transit station all integrated into one.

San Jose’s Mayor, Sam Liccardo insists this proposed Google campus is critical to the future of Silicon Valley and the city…

Mayor Sam Liccardo: Silicon Valley has developed on the suburban model a lot of tilt up, one and two story tech campuses surrounded by a sea of parking – there are inherent challenges in the sustainability of that model. We’re running out of land and God’s not building any more. We have horrible congestion on freeways and it’s not an affordable place to live.

Google Campus Mountain View: by Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues

We need to develop differently – we’re trying to retrofit a city built for automobile into a city built for people. We need to attract Silicon Valley’s talented, creative people…if we cannot attract the  20-30 year olds to live here, they will be somewhere else…We’ve got a vision for the Grand Central Station of the West… We’ve seen what they’re doing in London…it doesn’t hurt that they have a few bucks.

Alison van Diggelen: So what have they learned from San Francisco’s tech experience?

Sam Liccardo: We’ve seen how intense the tech backlash has been in San Francisco. We’ve got a strong focus on building affordable housing… address concerns about displacement, pressure on the cost of living.

Liccardo points out that this development may be long in coming…a decade even…

Sam Liccardo: This is not going to happen tomorrow: We’re not going to have 20,000 Googlers descending from parachutes…


140 New Montgomery: The Future of Green Building Design

140 New Montgomery: The Future of Green Building Design

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

140 New Montgomery is a landmark 1920’s Art Deco building in San Francisco and just became the HQ of Yelp. Last week, I took a closer look at its recent renovation with interior design expert Sara Andersen of Perkins+Will. We explored the 15th floor of the building, the home of Software AG’s San Francisco team, and she explained why wellness is a key part of green building design’s future. Would you believe, the building even features a “bike spa”? More on that later.

“Architecture interiors have a big impact on our environment and we need to do it responsibly,” says the green-enthusiast Sara Andersen, who points to the Living Future Institute and its performance-based Living Building Challenge as her inspiration.


Here are some key design features of 140 New Montgomery:

1. The building is certified LEED Gold by the US Green Building Council and features operable windows, efficient energy and water systems.

2. The structure has a narrow floor plate, so you’re never more than 25 feet from an operable window. Each of its 26 floors has its own air handling equipment and natural ventilation reduces the need for high-energy heating and cooling systems.

Sara Andersen of Perkins+Will, 140 New Montgomery, SF - Photo credit: Fresh Dialogues3. The large windows allow maximum use of natural light and all lights have daylight sensors, so they only go on when required.

4. The building’s efficient water system includes low-flow plumbing fixtures and use of recycled (grey) water for toilets.

5. Carpets are made from recycled fishing nets created by sustainable carpet designer Interface. Check out this video for the inspiring story of a triple win: for the environment, the community and the bottom line.

Alison van Diggelen checks out the "bike spa" tools at 140 New Montgomery, SF - Photo credit: Fresh Dialogues 6. The building has a “bike spa” in the basement, featuring a deluxe locker room and shower suite (complete with “140 New Montgomery” branded shampoos) and the snazziest space to tune up your bike for the commute home: the re-purposed historic wood-paneled executive board room, reclaimed from the original building.

7. Most doors from the original building were also reclaimed and reused.







“It’s about wellness,” says Sara Andersen. “When you have healthier happier employees,  there’s less sick days, there’s more collaboration and that leads right to the bottom line.” She says that AG Software finds that the new space helps promote recruitment and retention of its tech staff. Despite its “work from home” policy option, more staff are choosing to come into the office, increasing collaboration and (presumably) creativity.

The Future

Andersen is currently working on the interior design of a 250,000 office tower in San Francisco that features a central atrium, bridges and an inviting open stair to encourage movement, interaction and collaboration between employees.

“It’s about getting people to move…when you get up you change your posture, your circulation gets going, your brain is fresher,” she says. “They wanted to encourage the cross pollination among their groups. It’s being embraced globally.”

Her team at Perkins+Will is also collaborating on active design guidelines with the City of New York.

Intrigued? Find out more about 140 Montgomery and its former role as HQ for Pacific Bell

1. Top tech writer Alexis Madrigal has written an excellent report about the building’s historic and tech significance for The Atlantic. Check it out: “A 26 story history of San Francisco.”

2. KQED Forum’s Friday host, Dave Iverson led a fascinating discussion of the building’s design and history on Forum in March 2014.

This interview is part of a six-part video series “The Future of Green Building” sponsored by Webcor Builders.

Elon Musk Tops Best Green Interviews at Fresh Dialogues

Elon Musk Tops Best Green Interviews at Fresh Dialogues

It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).


1. Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles

Elon Musk in conversation with Alison van Diggelen of Fresh Dialogues“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video



2. Mayor Chuck Reed on leveraging private funding for San Jose’s Green Agenda

Alison van Diggelen interviews San Jose Mayor, Chuck Reed for a KQED assignment, City Hall 2013“I said from the beginning that the key to being able to succeed with our green vision was to work with other people’s money.” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. Read more/ listen.




3. Carly Fiorina on fighting climate change

Carly Fiorina and Alison van Diggelen in conversation, Commonwealth Club, March 2013“The most effective thing the US should do is start substantive discussions with China on what they can do.” Carly Fiorina. Read more or listen here.




4. Jennifer Granholm on Obama and energy policy

Jennifer Granholm, Alison van Diggelen Fresh Dialogues interview, Feb 2013“He should create a clean energy jobs race to the top.” Former Michigan Gov., Jennifer Granholm. Read more/ see video




5. Peter Rumsey on Net Zero Buildings and kids

Peter Rumsey, Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues interview 2013“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem.” San Francisco Exploratorium Green Designer, Peter Rumsey. Read more/ see video



6. Gavin Newsom on why a carbon tax makes sense 

Gavin Newsom, Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues interview 2013 “I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.” Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video



7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers

Steven Chu with Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues 2013“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video



8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption

GM's Pam Fletcher, Alison van Diggelen interview 2013“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video



9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds

Laurie Yoler, Alison van Diggelen discuss Tesla at Churchill Club 2013“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20



10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet

Rick Needham, Fresh Dialogues interview 201“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video

Beyond Random Acts of Greenness: The Future of Green Building

Beyond Random Acts of Greenness: The Future of Green Building

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

I sat down with Phil Williams of Webcor Builders to find out how the building industry is responding to climate change by quantifying a building’s environmental impact (water, CO2 production, etc) using Natural Capital Accounting (NCA).

“CFOs of major corporations are saying, ‘before it was random acts of greenness,'” says Williams. “Now I can start to measure our environmental impact.”

As he explains it, a global standard of measuring and quantifying a building’s impact can provide owners, renters, architects, and builders with valuable information with which to make key decisions about buying, renting, land use, building materials, energy systems etc.

As well as the World Bank, the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, closer to home, Climate Earth in Berkeley is working on the task.

Climate Earth’s White Paper “Valuing Natural Capital” states: “The objective of this project is to develop an estimate of the environmental costs of the greenhouse gas emissions, induced land use changes, and water consumption. For land use change and water consumption, environmental costs are dependent on where the activity takes place, and we developed local cost estimates to account for those differences. Greenhouse gas emissions are a global pollutant, and the costs are roughly indifferent to where the emissions take place, and so a single global number is sufficient to account for those costs.” The paper concluded that the Stern Review’s figure of $110/metric ton of carbon and carbon equivalent is appropriate.

“NCA takes some of those numeric evaluations – kilograms of CO2, liters of water, hectares of land – and puts them into economic evaluations that large corporations and nimble companies can look at, ” explains Williams. “These are not just environmental metrics, these are just financial metrics.”

He predicts that by the end of 2014, there will be recognized standards in Natural Capital Accounting for construction, apparel and other retail products.

Find out more about the Future of Natural Capital Accounting from the World Forum on NCA which takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland this November.

During our interview, Williams also explains the concept of making buildings “Future Ready” i.e. flexible enough to add solar, and other energy-making, energy-saving components after the building is completed.

“Future ready is a positive approach, it’s not about adding more, it’s not about ultimate flexibility,” says Williams. “It’s about providing the right amount of infrastructure to afford flexibility.”
This is part of a series on the Future of Green Building, sponsored by Webcor Builders. For more in the series, check out these videos and stories

Read more about Green Building stories featuring Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Apple and by checking the Green Building tab above or clicking here

SF Exploratorium: World’s Largest Net-Zero Museum

SF Exploratorium: World’s Largest Net-Zero Museum

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

What’s the biggest and most impactful exhibit at the new San Francisco Exploratorium, opening April 17th?

Get this: It’s not the 330 year-old Douglas fir tree, sliced open to reveal stunning time markers, or the 20 foot tall “Tinkerers’ Clock,” powered by windshield wiper motors.

No. It’s the entire Exploratorium structure itself, an audacious experiment in green building that aims to create the world’s largest “net-zero” energy museum.

What’s “net-zero,” you ask? Simple, it’s a building that creates as much energy as it consumes.

How it works

Peter Rumsey, CTO at Integral Group led the design of the building’s net-zero components and explains to Fresh Dialogues how it all works in this video.

Net-zero energy features include:

Exploratorium Solar PanelsApprox. 6,000 high efficiency  solar panels;

A complex system that brings in 74,000 gallons of water per hour from San Francisco Bay to heat and cool the building via miles of floor-embedded pipes;

A rain-water catchment used for flushing toilets.

Rumsey may be an enthusiastic advocate for green building, but what gets him most excited is the idea that the San Francisco Exploratorium will inspire kids to think net-zero is the way of the future.

“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem,” says Rumsey. “We can design and build buildings that make their own energy and don’t create a carbon problem.’ As kids grow up and become leaders in society, they’ll be the ones saying, ‘we should just do that zero energy thing. I saw it when I was a kid…it was no big deal.'”


Exploratorium kids & bubbles

Despite much talk about the state of the art green building features, Rumsey says, “There’s nothing cutting edge about the building…we’ve taken things that are ‘off the shelf’ and applied them in creative and innovative ways. We call it ‘state of the shelf’.”

Find out more…

See what’s green in the Exploratorium (interactive floor plan)

Take a tour behind the scenes at the Exploratorium (video)

Listen to KQED’s Exploratorium story by Molly Samuel

Read Paul Rogers’s story in the San Jose Mercury News

Read more about net-zero buildings

Here’s a map of some creative net-zero buildings worldwide

With thanks to the Exploratorium for sharing the many stunning images of the building and exhibits featured in our video.

Why Green Roofs Matter: Paul Kephart

Why Green Roofs Matter: Paul Kephart

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

It’s well known that green roofs are good for the environment, but did you know they can have major impact on your productivity and energy costs? Paul Kephart has been building green (or living) roofs for over twenty years, from Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. We met at one of his Silicon Valley projects, the Stanford Medical Center, and he explained how green roofs not only save in heating/cooling costs, but can increase worker productivity and even speed up patient recovery rates. He predicts that green roofs will go mainstream in the near future, especially in California where companies like Facebook are embracing the concept. Check out Facebook’s new Frank Gehry campus design featuring a rooftop park. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:

What is a green (or living) roof?

“A layer of soil and plant material that typically covers the top of a structure…We find these on residential, civic and commercial buildings throughout North America.”

Kephart recently worked on the Transbay Center in San Franciso which will feature a 5 acre rooftop park.

What are the key advantages of green roofs?

“They cool the city by decreasing the ambient temperature around the building by as much as 60 degrees in the summer months; they also help us save on our energy costs by thermally regulating the building envelope and increasing energy efficiency and reducing the cool load by up to 20 degrees in the conditioned space…they provide habitat for migratory birds and insects: butterflies, humming birds…”

“We know in a hospital setting..when patients have access to green, they heal 35% faster. That’s one of the reasons why Lucille Packard Hospital incorporated this greening as part of the structure.”

How do they help during a storm like Hurricane Sandy?California Academy of Sciences

“One of their main benefits is storm water management. It’s like a big sponge. When it rains, all that water is absorbed in that column of soil and it mitigates for these flash flood events…They become more resilient to these catastrophic events or more resilient long term to changes in climate or spikes in energy demand.”

What about return on investment, ROI?

Kephart cites the Vancouver Convention Center project which achieved a ROI of four years. Part of that rapid return included the reuse of grey water in the building.

What’s driving the use of green roofs in the private sector for companies like Facebook?

“What we’re trying to do is protect the structure, the building envelope, regulate its thermal performance which means a great life cycle analysis for those that are interested in that bottom line. That’s one of the key components, one of the primary drivers of this greening movement in North America and beyond It’s why this industry has grown 80% over the last five years. We’re seeing a return on investment. This landscape is a non-mowed California takes very little input and water to provide a beautiful green space, fresh air, habitat. ”

“When people have access to a park or greenery or look out  of their corporate offices on this kind of setting, that they’re more productive and have less absenteeism. That’s why you see corporate America, like Facebook saying let’s build this beautiful  park on top of our structure. Corporate America begins to adopt a greening and sustainable standard as part of its architecture, it’s a great statement…and demonstrates that it’s possible…California is going to adopt these green measures and it’s going to take off.”

What’s in the future for green roofs?

“With political will and public education and this emphasis on financial return on energy savings, we can turn this around and green our cities.”

This Fresh Dialogues interview was recorded at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, December 20, 2012. Camera work and stills courtesy of Lina Broydo.