Facebook debuted a new office building in Seattle with room for another 900 people today, less than two years after opening a new 2,000-person engineering center nearby — the latest sign of the massive growth by Silicon Valley tech giants in the city.
Facebook has been in Seattle for eight years, and in that time it has grown rapidly to employ 2,000 people here, making it one of the top tech players in the city. Workers started moving into the new office — a 150,000-square-foot building at 1101 Westlake Ave. N. — last month. Teams work on more than 100 different projects, including everything from Facebook Messenger to Marketplace to Games to the infrastructure that powers the entire operation.
After starting as a small outpost, Facebook’s Seattle office is now the company’s biggest engineering center outside of its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. In addition to engineers, the Seattle office also includes marketing, design and product management staff.
“Pretty much every role you would expect from a software company is here,” Vijaye Raji, vice president of Facebook’s Games division, said during an opening event for the new building this morning.
The new office is similar to the Frank Gehry-designed Dexter Station space that opened two years ago. It has the same cement floors, plywood walls and exposed duct work. Those features are meant to evoke Facebook’s axiom that the company is only 1 percent done with its mission.
Like at Dexter Station, the new office features a central stairway that creates openings between floors and encourages walking over taking elevators.
There are differences as well. Dexter Station boasts a sprawling rooftop deck replete with fire pits and gathering areas. The new office has a smaller outdoor space flanked by a library area that is meant to be quiet and more private than the bustling bullpen-like setup where the desks are. Employees asked for more quiet areas as part of the new buildings.
Facebook also tinkered with the design of its meeting rooms for the new buildings. There are hideaway spaces that a single person can reserve for a day, small meeting rooms for just a couple people and larger conference areas for bigger meetings or video chats with teams from other offices.
This office is more colorful than Dexter Station, with nine art installations throughout. Posters with slogans like “hate has no home here” and odes to the importance of transparency adorn the walls.
The building has “highways,” as Raji calls them, to shephard people through the space without invading open meeting rooms and rows of workspaces.
The addition of this new office is still not enough to contain all of Facebook’s growth in Seattle. We’ll probably be back in a year or so to mark the opening of the social network’s next big office project: a pair of structures, known as the Arbor Blocks, developed by Microsoft co-founders Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. Those buildings are six stories each and total 384,000 square feet.
For years, Amazon was the main player in the South Lake Union neighborhood, but recently, Facebook and other tech giants have laid down roots in the area. Vulcan is developing a new office campus for Google, just a couple blocks from Facebook’s new digs.
Facebook is one of the biggest examples of how out-of-town tech companies are investing in Seattle. Facebook opened its first Seattle engineering office in 2010, employing just a couple people near Pike Place Market, and later moved to occupy multiple floors in the Metropolitan Park complex near Interstate 5.
The company surpassed 500 employees in the Seattle office early in 2015, cementing its position as the company’s largest engineering center outside of its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Two years ago, Facebook’s Seattle headcount numbered more than 1,000. Since then, that figure has doubled.
Raji has seen a lot of this growth first-hand as one of the first Facebook Seattle employees. When he arrived, there were only 15 people working out of the small office near Pike Place Market. As the company has grown, the Seattle office gained the ability to be more independent, something Raji is proud of.
“With this amount of people you get critical mass, and you can start creating projects that are entirely grown from Seattle, like Marketplace,” Raji said.
The company does not break out how many people work on each team. That’s because engineers aren’t bound to one team or project, Raji said. If someone finishes up a Games project and wants to pick up a Messenger project, he or she is free to do so.
Facebook-owned virtual reality company Oculus has been growing in the Seattle area as well. Oculus is on a hiring spree locally, and an entity related to Oculus earlier this year purchased a pair of buildings in Microsoft’s backyard of Redmond, Wash. with a total of 71,000 square feet.
All these moves bring Facebook to near 1 million square feet of office space in the Seattle area.
More than 100 out-of-town companies from around the world have followed the same playbook and set up shop here in the region, and many of them have grown to become big parts of the local tech ecosystem.
In most places, growth like this from a company as big as Facebook, would be the dominant business narrative for years. But in Seattle it’s just another data point in the city’s ascension as a top global tech hub.
“We continue to see a flood or tech employees flock to Seattle as housing is remarkably cheap and this more than offsets any contraction in salary — it also doesn’t hurt that we do not have a state income tax either,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist for Windermere Real Estate. “Are we spoiled? Probably, but we are a city that Millennials love to live in and this does not go unnoticed by employers such as Facebook.”
But that doesn’t mean the gravy train will keep on rolling forever. While Gardner doesn’t see a slowdown in interest from out of town tech companies, Seattle’s affordability issues could force new entrants to look elsewhere.
“At what point are housing costs going to start to effect companies decision making? They might like Seattle now but I do believe that unless we fix housing affordability, at some point markets like Boise or Spokane might start to look good.”