Can Facebook keep its cool urban culture if it moves to Sun’s old headquarters?

Facebook has made moves toward buying the former campus of Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park — just up the road from its current location, but at the same time, a world away from its roots.

If Facebook moves from its current location in a former HP building near Stanford University in Palo Alto, where it’s bursting at the seams, to the distinctly corporate location of the former tech giant, it may be tough for the company to keep its hip geek culture.

Like Google before it, Facebook is growing fast and it is outgrowing the multi-building campus it occupies within walking distance of Stanford. The company quietly bought 22 acres of business property near the former Sun campus, purchasing buildings at 312 and 314 Constitution drive, according to Palo Alto Online.

Balancing growth and preserving corporate culture is a big issue for Facebook. It has to become bigger to keep up with its runaway growth. But it also has to be perceived as a cool place to work to attract the best talent.

Until now, it has preserved a geek culture fostered by founder Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old chief executive of the company. Zuckerberg engages in some very hacker-like practices, such as working on open desks in a big room full of engineers and banging a gong whenever someone finishes a big coding project (pictured at top, with Zuckerberg holding the gong).

Facebook famously hired David Choe, a graffiti artist, to paint murals in its first Palo Alto offices along University Avenue, and had similarly colorful paintings done in its newer campus.

Facebook’s current headquarters now is a combination of functional and eclectic. In the back of its main building, the company has a big lawn where it hosts a lot of hot dog and hamburger outings. Sun Microsystems’ former campus in Menlo Park is huge, with a bunch of office buildings that surround a central open space. It’s nicer than a lot of cramped office locations in Silicon Valley, but it also has a distinct corporate feel.

But Facebook may go the way of other big tech companies such as Google and Apple. Those companies have tried to hang on to their culture as well, but at some point, size outweighs those efforts. Zuckerberg and Facebook’s other executives will have to manage this transition properly. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others have done so by dressing up their corporate campuses in a way that makes them feel anti-corporate. Pixar, for instance, has a huge common area in the middle of its campus, with lots of glass offices looking down on the open space. If Facebook buys the Menlo Park campus of Sun and remodels it, I vote for Facebook to do something like the Pixar scene pictured below.

Palo Alto Online said the Constitution Drive properties were purchased by Giant Properties LLC, which uses a Facebook address for its location. The Menlo Park community development staff is also “finalizing land use entitlements for a new tenant at Sun campus,” according to papers filed by the city staff. The value of Facebook’s assessed buisness property value has risen from $8 million in 2007 to $63.4 million in 2010.

Facebook has declined to comment on the move.


VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Chime in, and we’ll share the data.