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December 27, 2004

Top Ten Favorite Spots on the Microsoft Campus

It's the time of year when people make lists, so in that spirit, I present my top ten favorite spots on the Microsoft campus. I am limiting myself to the "main" campus (the buildings east of the 520 highway), since that is what I am most familiar with. Also, all the locations are accessible without a cardkey (although I am not sure of Microsoft's precise policy on people without badges wandering around campus).

These are in no particular order; more precisely, they are in the order I took the pictures, so the order denotes nothing about relative ranking. Click on each thumbnail to bring up the larger picture.

I like this stairway because it makes you realize that this nondescript parking lot, which looks like any other paved lot in the world, is actually the second floor of an underground lot. Also it looks like a subway entrance.

This is a view of the entrance to the Building 16/17/18 garage complex. There are some parts where the garage is two stories high (straight ahead in the picture, for example), which I think looks cool, and I also like the way the landscaping around Building 16 (on the right), particularly the trees, turns out to be on top of nothing but air. At the top of the picture you can see the skybridge connecting 16 to 18, which looks quite nifty from the inside and would have made the list (along with the identical one connecting 17 to 18) except you need a cardkey to get to it.

This is a long fence (purely symbolic/decorative) on the edge of the main fields on campus. Note how the fence, trees, and path form a geometric haiku. This view is down the street that is called Microsoft Way (but should really be something like 157th Ave NE); if you turn right up ahead, on NE 36th St, you have a similar view there.

The "old" part of main campus (buildings 1-6 and 8-10) were connected by these covered walkways. This is the walkway between 6 and 10; it has a gap in it, rumored to be so that fire trucks could reach the inner courtyard if necessary. Whatever the reason, the result is one of the few places on campus that looks like it was sponsored by the Dia Foundation. The fountain just beyond it, which is right behind Building 9, was a happening place to hang out in the "good old days". Most of the walkways are shorter, but the one connecting Buildings 2, 8, and 9 takes a nice little meander through some trees.

This view, of the front door of Building 5, reminds me of the drawing of the Elvenking's Gate in The Hobbit. But more importantly, it shows an integration with the natural environment that is missing in Microsoft's newer buildings. Buildings 1-6 have only one floor of parking below them, so the parking level was built on the ground and the buildings constructed above; this contrasts with later buildings which had multi-level underground parking below them, which required digging a big giant hole and then adding landscaping back once the buildings were done (e.g. Building 16/17/18, see above). For Building 5, they built this bridge to the entrance, which if you look from the side turns out to be no higher than about three feet off the ground most of the way; in a modern Microsoft building the depression that it crosses never would have survived.

This bridge is tucked away in a corner of campus by Building 5 (a complete backwater until the recent construction of the massive Building 36, just on the other side of the bridge). It crosses a small ravine; the bridge to the Building 5 entrance (see previous item) is actually over the tail end of the same ravine. I like it because it's a bridge, but also because it again demonstrates a harmonizing with the extant topography that is absent in newer buildings (it helps, of course, that the buildings are almost 20 years old, so nature has recovered from any construction-related disruption). I think this is the photo that would most likely stump Microsoft people if you showed it to them and asked where on campus it was.

Another walkway, this one crossing from Building 1 to Building 2. I spent a lot of time on this walkway when the NT networking team was split between the two buildings. I like the way this walkway jumps from being one floor above the path to two floors above the parking garage. Not sure what the twisty maze of pipes is for (they were added at some point after initial construction), but they march around this general area. There's also a nice stand of red flowering currant bushes on the right side (unfortunately not flowering this time of year).

How can you not include the famous Lake Bill, nestled between Buildings 1, 2, 3, and 4. For fours years my office in Building 2 looked out at the lake and its famous fowl (if you continue under the walkway in the previous item, you arrive at the point this picture was taken from). This is the lake that Steve Ballmer swam across (for charity) and I almost had to swim across (if the NT networking team had not delivered something by some deadline, which we did). Dead ahead is a nice little patio off the Building 4 cafeteria.

Microsoft deserves credit for making its building slightly more architecturally interesting then they needed to be -- but only slightly. Mostly they are variations on stone and brick. Building 35 (and its virtual twin, Building 34) does the best job of actually being interesting to look at. Note the ubiquitous campus shuttle parked in front. [UPDATE (12/29): I originally had 34 and 35 confused -- this picture is really Building 35, despite the name of the .jpg file]

This is the path you would take if you wanted to get from, say, Building 2 to the Building 16/17 cafeteria. It's just a path, but it has an unhurried look to it, and a nice stand of trees to the right. I suppose if you were looking for the physical manifestation of the "Chinese Wall" that may or may not have existed between Systems and Applications, it would be this path; in this view, Systems would be behind you and Apps ahead.

Posted by AdamBa at December 27, 2004 09:11 PM

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hmm, that looks like 35 though and not 34.

Posted by: J.P. at December 29, 2004 07:27 AM

Yikes! You are right, of course. I fixed the text, thanks.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at December 29, 2004 08:42 AM

How could you overlook one of the most famous buildings of them all , building 7?

Posted by: thepianist at December 29, 2004 05:58 PM

In picture 3, what do you mean with the phrase "geometric haiku"?
I see a good example of perspective but no haikuness...

Please, elaborate!

Posted by: Jon Abad at December 29, 2004 06:09 PM

Building 7 (for those not aware) does not exist. In 1986 when the new campus opened it had 4 buildings, then 5 and 6 were added. Those were all the "single X" configuration. I think Building 7 was planned as a single X also, but instead the company built 8, 9, and 10 which were "double Xes" (and after that built bigger and bigger buildings). The rumor was that 7 was not built because there was a nice stand of trees in the way. I have also heard this is not true, that the company was simply growing too fast to build buildings that small, but the logical location for Building 7 (just south of Buildings 5 and 6) DOES include a nice patch of grass and trees, which I took a picture of and almost included on my list.

"Geometric haiku" does not mean anything (that I know of). In fact it was basically a Googlewhack until I used it here. I read the phrase years ago in a "Rolling Stone" magazine end-of-year issue, where Kelley Deal from The Breeders used it to describe some record she liked, and it stuck in my mind.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at December 30, 2004 11:16 AM

Its always fun to send an intern out for a meeting in Building 7

Posted by: dmitri at December 30, 2004 07:07 PM

I nominate the waterfalls / stream in the center of the Redwest campus as entry #11. Definately my favorite place on the (extended) campus. Also the Redwest cafeteria is probably one of our most interesting buildings architecturally.

Posted by: Chris McKulka at January 3, 2005 07:41 PM

I do like the Redwest central area, in fact it almost made the cut as I discussed in my followup post (http://www.proudlyserving.com/archives/2005/01/other_nice_spot.html). I'm sure on a day like today (clear, sunny, snow on the Cascades) it looks stunning.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at January 4, 2005 11:16 AM

My personal favorite is the old logging truck buried in the trees behind the Pebble Beach bldgs.

Posted by: chloe at January 8, 2005 09:46 AM

I once heard that Building 7 didn't happen because zoning laws would have required campus access from Bel-Red Road. The stand of trees is a nice alternative however, and in past years this was the site of a makeshift 18-hole frisbee golf course.

Posted by: Sky at January 11, 2005 12:29 AM

Some nice spots.

I would not include the Bldg 16/17 parking entrance, It's plain ugly IMO. But hey, your opinion.

On the flip side, the new Bldg 36 is incredibly ugly. Inside and out. Big, stark, out of place with the nearby buildings, a virtual cubefarm inside.

Ironic, since the other newest buildings, 34 & 35 are a huge leap better than the buildings they replaced. (12-15, were they? The old company store, at any rate) They are big, but they have some great views. Too bad 'concrete' seems to be the color of choice, but not too shabby. Great to work in, too.

Posted by: JD at February 6, 2005 06:54 AM