Sunday, April 21, 2024


A proposed Google sign on Main Street in Kendall Square was greeted warmly by members of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. (Photo illustration: Graham Hanson Design)

A proposed Google sign on Main Street in Kendall Square was greeted warmly by members of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. (Photo illustration: Graham Hanson Design)

As much as Google’s proposed sign for its Kendall Square offices tickled members of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, its designs for a connector building were cause for anger and dire warnings Wednesday.

“I do feel misled,” chairwoman Kathy Born said at the authority’s monthly (and annual) meeting.

Referring to the connector building going up to serve Google and landlord Boston Properties, member Chris Bator suggested that “we can ask them before we give any final approval if there’s some sort of regress or correction that can be made, but if not we make it clear to Boston Properties that we will remember.”

“If they come to us with anything again, our presumption is that we will not give them the benefit of a doubt on a fair deal,” Bator said.

There was no representative of Boston Properties present.

“It’s core to our culture”

Google has long had offices in three buildings clustered around a parking garage owned by Boston Properties, who presented a plan in February 2012 to help its tenant by linking the three, winning City Council approval only a month later and then confirmation by a newly gathered five-member CRA board of directors. The deal took away 42 percent of a rooftop garden between 3, 4 and 5 Cambridge Center for one of the connector structures, which Google executive Steve Vinter argued was needed to give workers “large floorplates” to roam in.

“[This] isn’t just because we like it,” Vinter said. “It’s because it’s core to our culture and how we collaborate, and it’s what makes us successful.”

Boston Properties executives outright rejected design suggestions from the authority, where members granted permission to build anyway, but it wasn’t too long before members on a design review committee were finding that Google designs for inside its two-story, glass-walled connector building would result in making it mainly opaque and little like the images they presented at first.

“I’m going to want Mr. Cantalupa to be present at meetings, because he made commitments about clarity,” Bator said Wednesday of Michael Cantalupa, a senior vice president of development at Boston Properties. It was not much different from what Bator said six months ago – that “I’m going to remember and be disappointed or unhappy with the assurances I think we were given as a board if” they turned out not to be true.

Walls are going up

Born said Wednesday that designs for the two-story connector building have “strayed further from the initial rendering that the council and CRA approved every time we’ve seen it,” with a grand staircase shrinking to a “piddly” size and the latest design including walls she deemed a “revolting mustard” color.

At a recent meeting with Google, she said,

I had trouble keeping my cool. Because I felt they’d come to the City Council, before we even existed, to say they needed all this open space for these broad areas of collaboration, and the open space has become not one but two enclosed theaters, and it was peppered with conference rooms  … I don’t think that it was truth in advertising.

While the project has to come back to the authority for final approval, construction on walls inside the connector building has begun. Complicating the authority’s review was that Google wouldn’t let members take copies of their design proposals with them, which member Barry Zevin said was funny coming from “a company that wants to know all about us.”

Good sign

The Google sign is also an interactive sculpture, board members noted. (Image: Graham Hanson Design)

The Google sign is also an interactive sculpture, board members noted. (Image: Graham Hanson Design)

But just as visitors to the Google homepage can’t help but be charmed by the creative “doodles” the company applies to its logo to mark holidays and special occasions, the authority was supportive of the sign it proposed to be seen by people entering its new street-level connector building. Previous versions wanted by the company were bigger and higher up, and drew disapproval from CRA members.

The new proposed sign, by Graham Hanson Design of New York, is a giant version of the company logo that will pass through the ceiling of one story looking down on Main Street’s sidewalk and floor of the next story up, with the first and final letters playfully cut off from view by 3 and 5 Cambridge Center to the left and right. The body of the three-dimensional characters can be sat on, while their outward-looking electronically controlled faces can light up in any color or design, members said.

“That it’s a piece of sculpture you can interact with is good,” Zevin said, and he and Born applauded the idea of a sign for pedestrians rather than drivers.

“This is better,” Born said.

The authority’s board has wrestled with forming an overall Kendall Square sign philosophy for many of the months since it was activated two years ago, and still expressed uncertainty Wednesday about the degree to which the area should have a Times Square feel. A look at potential electronic billboards earlier in the night seemed to favor a less animated approach.

In this case, though, “Some electronic fun in life is not inappropriate,” Bator said.