In the middle of Shenzhen, China's Silicon Valley, Asia's biggest tech company Tencent opened its new headquarters. Tencent, the owner of China's WhatsApp-equivalent WeChat, invited us to take a look at one of the most cutting edge buildings on the planet.
With its two glass-and-aluminium towers (taller than the Trump Tower, connected by three bridges that glow golden at night) Tencent's new building breathes the future. The South wing measures a whopping 248 metres (about 814 feet) and consists of 50 stories, while the North sits at 194 metres (about 636 feet) with 39 levels. Inside, a robot guide roams the lobby helping people, guiding them to the washroom and other facilities.
The towers stand out not only from the buildings surrounding them, but from their Silicon Valley cousins. While America's tech startups sprawl through San Francisco's Bay Area, Tencent's new home is built skyward because of space constraints. The architectural work is massive, with 348,800 square metres (about 3.75 million square feet) of space across its North and South towers sitting on 18,600 sq m of land. That's bigger than the Louvre!
Tencent won't tell me how much it paid for its new home -- reports peg the price at $599 million -- but no matter how exorbitant it is, it befits the status of the first Asian tech company to cross the $500 billion valuation mark.
Still, the reported cost is much lower than the billions that Apple, Google and Facebook have pumped into building their campuses in California. They're comparatively smaller, too, with Apple's spaceship campus at 2.8 million sq ft in size and Facebook's current home at 430,000 sq ft.
Tencent says those three bridges linking the towers represent connectivity, the core of its business. Aside from WeChat, the company also dabbles in games development, one of its most successful being Honour of Kings, a multiplayer online battle arena game known internationally as Arena of Valour, featuring DC heroes. It was so popular in China, with 200 million registered players, that Tencent had to limit kids' playing time following public backlash over addiction concerns.
Inside Asia's biggest tech giant's $600M headquartersSee all photos
Throughout the new building, devices housing a camera mark the right side of doors. Our guide points one of them out at the health centre, called Health Link, on level 22, explaining the cameras are facial recognition systems tasked with allowing only authorised personnel to enter each space.
As our entourage of media representatives proceeds, we pass four animal statues designed to symbolise Tencent's core values: integrity (a giraffe), proactivity (a petrel), collaboration (a rhino and a bird on its back) and innovation (a nautilus).
True to its name, the Health Link offers a gym, table tennis and pool tables, a badminton court, a dance studio, a yoga room and more.
We visit its massive indoor rock climbing station, currently kept out-of-bounds while the safety equipment waits to be installed. Later, we find ourselves on a 300-metre indoor jogging track that runs a full circle around the bridge, connecting the North and South towers.
Some of Tencent's employees, including high-ranking staff, love basketball, our guide tells us. For their benefit, the company made a full-sized basketball court complete with a giant monitor that screens a game from Tencent's sports channel during our visit. The glass windows are soundproofed, no doubt to prevent noise seeping through from passionate players.
Employees who find themselves starving after work or exercise can proceed to any one of the four levels containing staff canteens. They serve a range of cuisines to cater all palates, with staff members hailing from various parts of China and the world. Breakfast is free, with lunch payable at discounted rates -- not quite as good as Google, which does give a free lunch.
Not all facilities are open yet, with Tencent aiming to have everything up and running closer to the end of the year. Some of the things we missed include the third bridge, which holds a library, an education centre, offices, meeting rooms and more. We also missed the swimming pool -- yes, there is a swimming pool in this skyscraper.
And to top it all off, those sky-reaching heights are built to be environmentally friendly. The glass windows reduce heat from the sun, meaning less air conditioning needed to cool both towers. Tencent says the building leaves a 40 percent lower carbon footprint compared to a typical office tower. Meanwhile, Apple facilities across the world use 100 percent clean energy, with Samsung aiming for the feat by 2020.
Overall, Tencent's new home reminds me of, well, Google. Its campuses incorporate recreational activities and on-campus dining, ensuring employees are well taken care of. Yet the building remains different, built to make sense in a city that's quickly running out of space, and proving you don't need to build sideways, just smartly.
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