When you pull off Highway 101 and head into Sunnyvale, Calif., the first thing you notice is how boring innovation looks up close. This small Silicon Valley city, which abuts both Cupertino, the home of Apple, and Mountain View, the site of the Googleplex, is where Lockheed built the Poseidon nuclear missile. It’s where the forebear of NASA did some of its most important research and where a prototype for Pong debuted at a neighborhood bar. Countless ambitious start-ups — with names like Qvivr, Schoolfy, eCloset.me and PeerPal — appear in Sunnyvale every year. Aesthetically, though, the city is one enormous glass-and-stucco office park after another. Its dominant architectural feature, the five-story headquarters of Yahoo, a few minutes from Innovation Way, looks about as futuristic as a suburban hospital.
As an industry becomes more dynamic, its architecture, by necessity, often becomes less inspiring. These squat buildings have thick outer walls that allow for a minimal number of internal support beams, creating versatile open-floor plans for any kind of company — one processing silicon into solar-power arrays, say, or a start-up monitoring weed elimination in industrial agriculture.