Project Spotlight : Alibaba

When China’s largest Internet company, Alibaba, planned to open its first office outside of China in the Silicon Valley, it considered its real estate options and chose to sign a lease for 16,665 square-feet office space located on the fourth and sixth floors at 400 S. El Camino Real in San Mateo.

Focused on recruiting Millennial employees and their preference for offices with unique, open interior spaces, SBC was selected to provide construction services and partnered with architect ASD | SKY and furniture dealer, InsideSource/Young to create a collaborative, flexible and lifestyle-friendly environment comfortable for both guests and employees.  




Upon entering the 4th floor main reception area, visitors and employees are welcomed by a custom, interactive wall showcasing Alibaba’s family of companies. Staff works in the space with light streaming in from windows on all four sides of the building and with great views of 4th Street, downtown San Mateo.  Exposed ceilings with air ducts, pipes and pendant lighting hang overhead and polished concrete floors give the space an almost industrial aesthetic.

ASD | SKY, designed the space to include a variety of unique materials such as wood veneer, felt panels, and metal drapery.  SBC also installed in the game room a BuzziGrid, a highly decorative and ecological element that serves as a sound buffer.

In addition to open work areas and private meeting spaces, the workplace is accentuated with floor-to- ceiling glass-enclosed conference rooms, a relaxed living-room design with contemporary sofas and ottomans, wood-veneer countertops, unfinished steel and Edison light bulbs throughout the space. Allsteel Stride Benching, a new type of workstation suited for a flexible and collaborative environment, was chosen to create a beautiful, functional space.




Challenges on the project

The project was located next door to a residential apartment building so SBC’s construction crews had to manage noise abatement during the demolition phase. Construction crews, the building owner and local police had to coordinate the timing for dumping construction debris into the dumpsters to minimize the noise impact on the neighborhood.

Adjacent floors were occupied by other tenants which required SBC’s team to working closely with the building management firm, Orchard Commercial, to create a plan for working off-hours to ensure the construction process did not disturb the daily operations of existing tenants.

An early challenge to the TI occurred when it was discovered that the drywall and taping mud throughout the fourth and sixth-floor walls were littered with asbestos materials. An abatement company was called in to remove the contaminants and SBC also had to retain the services of an air hygienist to test the air quality of the floors after the abatement work to ensure that the asbestos had been properly removed.

However, the greatest construction challenge to renovating Alibaba’s two floors was finding approximately 100 locations to drill two-inch to four-inch holes in the ten-inch to twelve-inch concrete slabs/floor plates to run power and data cables for Alibaba. The issue was that the concrete was reinforced structurally with post-tension cables (versus rebar) and drilling holes through post-tension cables had to be avoided at all costs – not only would severing them weaken the structure but a cut post-tension cable has the potential to harm anyone working in the vicinity. SBC hired a specialist that scanned the floor for very precise locations where holes could be safely drilled. In the end the architect and furniture dealer had to relocate about half of all the holes called for in construction plans so Alibaba employees have electrical outlets where they want them and their space is fully functional.




Collaborative Measures

All team members were committed to a communication process that realized the full potential of the project. Dusty Furtado and August Essner from SBC, Jennifer Mitchell with ASD | SKY and Mona Yu from Alibaba were present at all project meetings to mitigate issues without delaying the schedule.

During pre-construction, SBC, together with the architect, prepared multiple budgets with a detailed account of all landlord and tenant costs.  This enabled Alibaba to reap the most from their TI budget for the new improvements and make informed decisions about the design while drawings were being developed.

With sustainability in mind, SBC worked with the architect on design concepts to take advantage of natural daylight and reduce reliance on artificial light. Drywall around the stairwells were reused, the perimeter of the bathrooms were salvaged, the electrical rooms were left alone and the existing power was re-distributed to the client’s specifications.

Overall the project provided SBC with numerous opportunities to meet the needs of the Alibaba team. Through the process of conceptual budgeting, pre-construction planning and effective site management SBC was able to provide Alibaba with their first office in the United States.

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