Apple’s New Home
Steve Jobs’ last project is finally move-in ready.
Its official name is Apple Park, but everybody knows Apple’s new California corporate headquarters by its nickname, the Spaceship Campus. The sci-fi sobriquet, inspired by the flying saucer shape of the curved-glass central building, is a testament not only to the company that elevated the home computer and smartphone to high-tech art forms, but also to the futuristic vision of its founder, Steve Jobs. As his last major project at Apple—before he stepped down as CEO in 2011 and passed away later that same year—the new campus isn’t just the company’s largest and most lasting release in its history, but it carries the Jobs penchant for forward-thinking design.
Like all Apple products, details of the 175-acre campus in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley were shrouded in secrecy during development and became the subject of intense speculation and anticipation. Designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners, the campus, which replaces the Cupertino headquarters called Infinite Loop, is a 21st-century office-space utopia where creativity and collaboration work side by side with some 12,000 employees in a placid, parklands setting in the suburbs. Sited on the former Hewlett-Packard campus, Apple Park is a mini-city of jaw-dropping, futuristic features.
Everything revolves around the Ring, the colossal four-story, 2.8-million-square-foot, spaceship-shaped main building and the 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater, where future products will be launched. Inside the Ring, there’s a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center that includes medical and dental offices. There’s also a 300,000-square-foot research and development space.
The campus’ two miles of walking and running paths are supplemented by space for 1,000 bicycles to encourage employees to commute sans car to and from Apple Park as well as around it. There is a parking garage for 10,500 cars, but it’s underground so that the natural scenery, which includes an orchard, a meadow, and a pond, remains unspoiled. Even the entry is innovative: a 755-foot-long white-tiled tunnel connects the main road to the campus and parking cave.
Although the five-billion-dollar campus is private, the company assumes it is likely to become a major tourist attraction: a visitor center, complete with an Apple store and café, is open to the public. The luxurious compound is all the more notable given the humble beginnings of the company; Jobs produced the first 50 Apple 1s in his parents’ spare bedroom, then moved operations into their garage.
Announcing the opening of the campus in spring 2017, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said that Jobs, “intended Apple Park to be the home of innovation for generations to come. The workspaces and parklands are designed to inspire our team as well as benefit the environment.” Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, added that, “connecting extraordinarily advanced buildings with rolling parkland creates a wonderfully open environment for people to create, collaborate and work together.”
Over 9,000 trees make the campus a green park on what had been 5 million square feet of flat asphalt and concrete. Most of the 309 species are drought-resistant and native to California, and the woodland planting is designed to attract migrating songbirds. The pine trees on the Apple-manufactured hills, however, were sourced from Christmas tree farms in the Mojave Desert.
The campus features one of the world’s larger on-site solar energy installations. Solar panels on the Ring’s roof provide 17 megawatts of power, and the complex is powered by an on-site low-carbon central plant.
The Ring is the world’s largest naturally “breathing” building. It sucks in air through canopy-like fins and pushes it back out through chimney-like shafts. Apple estimates that, given the park-like setting and California’s climate, air conditioning and heating will not be used for about nine months of the year.
The concrete floors and ceilings are embedded with tubes of water that maintain a temperature of 68 to 77 degrees.
The park uses 30 percent less water than a typical commercial Silicon Valley development. The roof of the Ring captures rainwater, which promotes natural drainage, reduces stormwater runoff, and improves the water quality of Calabazas Creek. Low-flow fixtures are used throughout the interior.
Employees who live within a 15-minute radius of the campus are encouraged to commute on the Apple shuttle. There’s another deliberate enticement to leave the car at home: There are 12,000 employees and only 10,500 parking spaces.
The project, which had existed in Jobs’ mind since at least 2004, entered the realm of reality in 2009 when he called Norman Foster, the founder and chairman of London-based Foster + Partners, the awarding-winning firm that designed the rebuilt Reichstag in Berlin, the Swiss Re tower in London that everyone calls “The Gherkin,” and the Hearst Tower in New York City.
The original site Apple had chosen was significantly smaller, and the circular building had yet to be envisioned. The scope of the project changed when the larger Hewlett-Packard property became available. Hewlett-Packard was a significant signpost in Jobs’ life. As a teen, he got a summer job there around the time its founders bought the property and decided to turn it into an office park.
“The reference point for Steve was always the large space on the Stanford campus—the Main Quad—which Steve knew intimately,” Foster told Architectural Record in 2014. “Also, he would reminisce about the time when he was young, and California was still the fruit bowl of the United States. It was still orchards.”
The team also discussed the idea of a London square, with a mini-park in the center. That concept evolved into the Ring, or what came to be the Mother Ship, which wraps itself around a forest of native trees like a shawl. Foster noted that although the physical space of the campus is large, the siting of the buildings is tight and compact, taking up only 13 percent of the property, leaving a significantly smaller footprint than Hewlett-Packard’s, and creating an efficient work environment.
The grand scale of the Ring, which is two-thirds the size of the Pentagon, is humanized by cafés, lobbies, multiple entrances, and the way it snuggles into its surroundings. Jobs got some of his greatest ideas while taking walks, so he wanted the campus to be close to nature. The café, for example, blurs the lines between interior and exterior spaces: Its four-story-tall glass walls move sideways to open out into the landscape.
Like the design of Apple’s other products, Apple Park is groundbreaking: It establishes a new workplace paradigm devoid of the rigid angles, corners, and cubicles that define traditional corporate culture.
“The park reflects the transformative, visionary approach of Steve Jobs,” says Maria R. Perbellini, dean of the School of Architecture and Design at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, New York. “Just like his imagination, the Ring has no boundaries. It’s another example of Jobs being in front of everyone else.”
When Jobs decided to work with Foster + Partners, a firm known for its high-tech, high-performing architecture, he did so in an unorthodox way: He treated the relationship as an equal partnership that included the Apple design team. Although Jobs didn’t originally propose a circular building, he did know that he wanted a horizontal structure instead of a traditional vertical high rise. Inside, he conceived of pods where employees of different disciplines would be free to circulate and collaborate. The Ring’s circle—a shape that represents purity—is in sync with his pods idea because it makes everyone equal and gives everyone equal access.
Three-and-a-quarter miles of the world’s largest, strongest, curved-glass panels wrap the building. The 45-foot-tall pieces of safety glass were specially fabricated by the German-based Seele Group, which collaborated on Apple’s Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan.
The downward-sloping “fins” act as sun and rain shades. Glass has a greenish cast, and their pure white color was achieved by painting the back of the glass white then attaching the pieces to perforated metal sheets that were coated on one side with silicone.
The 10 sliding glass door panels in the café each measure 85 feet by 54 feet and weigh 6,500 pounds. The steel frames that encase each are 360,000 pounds. They open and close without a sound, thanks to underground machinery.
The interior staircases were inspired by those on a yacht. Made of thin, lightweight concrete, they have banisters that are carved out of the walls alongside them. They double as fire stairs: high-pressure sprinklers spray a dense mist in emergencies.
The door handles are integrated into the doorframes so there are no bolts visible.
The office walls are paneled with a custom timber veneer made from recycled wood.
The walls of the fitness center’s two-story yoga room are clad in stone quarried in Kansas and antiqued to look like that in Jobs’ favorite hotel in Yosemite.
There are no cords visible on the office desks, and buttons underneath are used to raise and lower them. You don’t have to see them. You feel the difference—the convex one is for up, the concave is for down.
During earthquakes, steel base isolators allow the building to move up to 4.5 feet in any direction without affecting vital services.
The café’s patented pizza cartons, designed by Longoni, do not get soggy so employees can carry them back to their work pods to eat.
Michelle Greenwald, a marketing professor at NYU Stern School of Business, says the Ring’s roundness, “represents Apple’s continuity and continuous improvement related to new products. It’s also reminiscent of the Pentagon, which is a symbol of power. It combines the beauty, the calming effect, and the regenerative power of nature with man-made functional design.”
But, by the time Jobs’ vision started to take shape, he was gravely ill. That, Perbellini says, had a great influence on those who carried out the park’s design after his death. It’s no accident that the team decided to site the Steve Jobs Theater on a man-made hill on the highest point of the property.
“From that point, you have an overview of the whole campus,” she says. “It’s like Jobs is still watching over things. The Ring can symbolize the circle of life. It was Jobs’ last project. The circle is now closed because it’s the completion of his life. But a circle is infinite—it keeps flowing, which helps you understand why a man who was dying would embrace the form.”
Apple Park didn’t open to universal acclaim. Some critics have found fault with its isolation from the city and public transportation, its lack of a childcare center, its high price (there were so many cost overruns that Apple never confirmed a total figure, although $5 billion is the accepted sum), and its failure to anticipate the needs and desires of the workforce of the future.
In June 2011, when Jobs, in what would be his final public appearance, pitched the plan to the Cupertino City Council, he said that, “we have a shot at building the best office building in the world. I really do think that architecture students will come here to see it.”
That is the sort of hubristic hype that made Jobs one of the most successful corporate leaders in recent history. Through a combination of single-minded vision and chutzpah, he managed to grow a company operated from his parents’ garage into one of the most buzzed about office buildings in the world. It’s ironic that as employees start to move into their new workplace, for the first time Apple’s future (at least in recent history), has a hint of uncertainty. Though the iPhone and iPad have been widely imitated, the brand’s sales are sagging, there’s no new, life-changing product in its pipeline, and Jobs’ overriding and iconic inventiveness has vanished.
Apple may be ready to move on, or may not even exist in the next 50 to 100 years. Silicon Valley, after all, is always chasing the next new thing. The technology sector is especially friendly to young, lean companies eager to cannibalize sectors of the market left open by older, bloated corporations. What will happen when Apple’s no longer top of the heap? Perbellini says the building’s flexible design makes it appropriate for a variety of uses. She mentions a school or an exhibition space. Then again, another tech company could snap up the land, raze the Ring, and build its own legacy.
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