Notes on the New Microsoft Campus

Microsoft has unveiled plans for a complete rebuild of its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in the eastern suburbs of Seattle.    Corporations have long wanted to make their headquarters feel like universities — hence their love of the word campus — but this one is much closer to delivering on that image. complete with retail, generous plazas and open space, and — very important — the removal of through car traffic.


It’s most important feature is its relationship to the new light rail station that will open on the edge of the campus in 2023.  A central axis of the campus points right to the station, minimizing walk distances to all campus destinations.  The station is just off the image to the upper right.  It’s not the town of circa 1900 town where density crowded around the station, but then rail stations in 1900 weren’t in ravines next to freeways.  This campus represents the best of what you can do given the suburban nature of the urban fabric, land ownership, and transportation infrastructure. It’s no substitute for locating in the old fabric of a dense city — as Amazon and Twitter did and Google is planning to do — but it’s a great start toward building a more human urban environment in a difficult context.

None of the materials I’ve seen mentions the parking ratios, however.  How many spaces per employee?  Too much parking would destroy the whole point.






14 Responses to Notes on the New Microsoft Campus

  1. David Seater November 30, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    If the previous “new campus” is any guide, there will be quite a lot of underground parking below the sports field(s). The last one was rumored to be “the second-largest underground garage in the western hemisphere.”

    • Kyle Miller December 1, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

      Microsoft does not charge for parking, and in fact ensures that all employees (as opposed to contract workers) have access to a parking spot. The company has leveraged a lot of good in their TDM efforts – free Orca passes, Company shuttles and connector buses through the region, plus receiving gold star treatment from local transit agencies and the City. For all the good, the parking situation continues to make the campus (and it does sprawl) a pain in the neck for local traffic and residential neighborhoods – it does however bend to support transit.

    • asdf2 December 1, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

      As long as most of the U.S. considers free parking to be a basic human right, free parking becomes a must-have for employee recruitment and retention. Even if the costs of building all that parking were added to employee salaries, people would still view the end of free parking as “cutting costs” and wonder what other benefits might be next. That is why Microsoft (and tech companies, in general) bend over backwards to provide free parking for everyone, regardless of the costs, while attempting to use carrots, rather than sticks to get people to commute in other ways.

      Only when a campus is located somewhere like midtown Manhattan, can a large tech company get away with not giving away parking, without their employees revolting.

  2. A.M. November 30, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

    While it may look nice, a lot of things have to go wrong for this to emerge.

    As humans, we crave a certain level of travel. When we live and study at a university, spending most of hours within the same confined space would be tedious, stultifying. So we spread the buildings apart and put some nice parkspace in between.

    With a corporate estate, you don’t live onsite, so you’ve already traveled to reach it. Spreading the buildings apart in this fashion, while owning the land in between, is only possible when the land is cheap – i.e. it’s suburban.

    Microsoft will have 8,000 employees at this site. According to economist Enrico Moretti, for every high value job created, 5 local service jobs spring up. Figure in kids and typical household sizes, you’re looking at around ~30k housing units needed. And those other 40k+ people, despite supporting Microsoft workers, will not be able to use the “green space” which will invariably have much lower utilization than any urban park.

    Corporate estate: no housing, long commutes, low utilization of private space, ghost town at night, exclusionary, vulnerable to bankruptcy; changing jobs may mean uprooting your whole life
    Commercial downtown: proximate housing, high utilization of private space, active at all hours, open, ‘safety in numbers’ via the array of firms nearby – no moving needed to switch jobs necessarily.

    • Kyle Miller December 1, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

      Quick correction – Microsoft will ADD 8,000 employees at this site. My recollection is that this portion of the campus is somewhere currently upwards of 40,000 employees (maybe much more depending on how Microsoft accounts for contract employees this week…

    • Henry December 2, 2017 at 12:07 am #

      The park space is not actually in between. Looking at this map, the park is 1. fairly linear, 2. not that wide, and 3. towards the edge of the campus. The offices on the far end of the park still have a pretty straight-line path to the transit system, and at its widest it is the equivalent of a city block. No one really says that Central Park is a giant waste of urban space even though it’s right up against a subway line.

  3. Duncan Watry December 1, 2017 at 2:23 pm #

    It’s certainly preferable to the new Apple spaceship in Cupertino!

  4. Thomas December 2, 2017 at 11:46 am #

    “None of the materials I’ve seen mentions the parking ratios, however. How many spaces per employee? Too much parking would destroy the whole point.”

    What parking ratio would you like the offices to have?

    IMHO too little parking would create more problems than too much. A shortage of parking at the offices might nudge some employees to take publc transport but I expect a significant fraction of employees would park on nearby streets, thus adding to congestion on those streets and causing their residents difficulty parking. And from Microsoft’s point of view offering good car parking as well as good public transport links helps them attract and retain employees.

    • Sailor Boy December 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

      “What parking ratio would you like the offices to have?”

      Zero free parking. Parking charged at market rates and available to non-employees is my ideal ratio. If employees park on the surrounding streets then we can look at restrictions on the local street parking. Residents have no more right to park there than employees.

  5. Chris December 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    Not enough transit will be provided to allow for all the parking to be removed in any case. Seems like EastLink at peak times can provide a thoroughput of around 6000 passengers per hour (assuming three car trains, five minute peak headway) and those passengers will include all the other people at the other stations as well.

  6. Calvin December 7, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    I’m not sure where you got 6000, when every projection I’ve been seeing has been 50000.

    • Calvin December 7, 2017 at 9:00 am #

      Oh I misread, didn’t realize you were talking about per hour max throughput, not projected daily ridership.

  7. Jack Whisner December 11, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    David Seater is correct. Microsoft has a very large existing underground garage just south of NE 40th Street west of SR-520. News stories said they would add more with the old campus re-do. There is a second nearby Link station on 152nd Avenue NE.

  8. RossB December 13, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    The biggest problem with the site is the location. There are plenty of suburbs in this country that lie just outside the main city, or along a major corridor, with smaller cities on both sides. Redmond isn’t like that. It sits to the northeastern edge of the growth boundary. The city of Redmond is reasonably compact (for a suburban city) but the surrounding area is not. This means that for a lot of people, getting to the campus by transit is very time consuming. The light rail extension won’t change that.

    Here is a map showing Microsoft headquarters: You will need to zoom out and look to the left for Seattle. Bellevue is a large suburban city, with a fairly sizeable downtown. It serves as the center of commerce for the eastern suburbs, an area that is separated from Seattle by Lake Washington. For that reason, it is also a major transit hub, with buses serving it from all over the eastern suburbs (and express service across the lake). Now look at the future light rail line — It may be hard to get a grasp of the scale, but the distances are huge. Without knowing the distances, it seems like a pretty convenient location. A little backtracking once you catch the train, but no big deal. Knowing that buses serve downtown Bellevue also makes it seem relatively convenient (just take a bus to downtown Bellevue and transfer, even if the first bus is going the wrong direction).

    But because the distances are so large, folks from the east side will spend a lot of extra time on the bus if they decide to take transit to work. It just won’t work for the vast majority of commuters, since the area is so spread out. There are buses from the various sprawling areas to downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue, but it would be a bad value to also add service to Redmond. That would be spreading the agency too thin.

    From the more densely populated areas, transit is a reasonable option, except that for many, the commute would take a very long time. Even in the Seattle area, you are looking at commutes around an hour. Generally speaking, people just won’t put up with that, and will find alternatives. So basically, the biggest group of transit users will be those who live along the SR 520 corridor, from downtown Bellevue to Redmond). For everyone else, it makes sense to drive, or to find another job (in downtown Seattle).

    Now check out a density map of the area: There just aren’t that many people who live along that corridor. There has been some growth, but the city proper (Seattle) is growing faster than any of the suburbs. That means that very few people will actually take public transit to work. Some will take the private buses, but many will just drive.

    If Microsoft had moved to downtown Bellevue, it would have been better for just about everyone who rides transit. But that wasn’t their priority, so the region (and the planet) will take a hit as a result.