Apple has issued a press release in time for Steve Jobs’ birthday on the 24th of February, launching their new headquarters as if it was a new product. I am an Apple fan from my MacBook Pro to my Apple Watch, and love their products. But I am not buying into this one. Here are excerpts from the press release and my translation following:
Apple today announced that Apple Park, the company’s new 175-acre campus, will be ready for employees to begin occupying in April. The process of moving more than 12,000 people will take over six months, and construction of the buildings and parklands is scheduled to continue through the summer.
Envisioned by Steve Jobs as a center for creativity and collaboration, Apple Park is transforming miles of asphalt sprawl into a haven of green space in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley.
Apple Park is a walled private green space that will be pretty much inaccessible to the public, but who might be able to see it from the new Apple store on site. It has built miles of asphalt underground and in parking structures big enough to house 10,500 cars, a ridiculously high parking ratio of one space for every 1.142 employees, a number of cars that will need miles of asphalt road to service.
“Steve’s vision for Apple stretched far beyond his time with us. He intended Apple Park to be the home of innovation for generations to come,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The workspaces and parklands are designed to inspire our team as well as benefit the environment. We’ve achieved one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy.”
In an earlier post we took information about the average commute time in the area and the average passenger miles per gallon and estimated that it would take 6,300 gallons of gasoline to get those Apple engineers to and from work. But no doubt it will not be that bad now; While Norman Foster’s renderings showed the garage full of Audis, many will likely be Teslas. But still, location matters. It's not what you build, it's where you build it.
“Steve invested so much of his energy creating and supporting vital, creative environments. We have approached the design, engineering and making of our new campus with the same enthusiasm and design principles that characterize our products,” said Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer.
This is where you really have to read between the lines, because a building is not a phone. Julia Love wrote in Reuters recently about the obsessiveness:
Tolerances, the distance materials may deviate from desired measurements, were a particular focus. On many projects, the standard is 1/8 of an inch at best; Apple often demanded far less, even for hidden surfaces. The company's keen design sense enhanced the project, but its expectations sometimes clashed with construction realities, a former architect said. "With phones, you can build to very, very minute tolerances," he said. "You would never design to Betsmove that level of tolerance on a building. Your doors would jam."
But as an architect, the most troubling words are “We have approached the design” and later on, “Designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners”- who designed this building? Is Apple the architect or the client? Norman Foster, in an interview for Architectural Record in 2014, clearly thinks of himself as the designer:
The reference point for Steve [Jobs] was always the large space on the Stanford campus—the Main Quad—which Steve knew intimately. 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.
We did a continuous series of base planning studies. One idea which came out of it is that you can get high density by building around the perimeter of a site, as in the squares of London. And in the case of a London square, you create a mini-park in the center. So a series of organic segments in the early studies started to form enclosures, all of which were in turn related to the scale of the Stanford campus. These studies finally morphed into a circular building that would enclose the private space in the middle—essentially a park that would replicate the original California landscape, and parts of it would also recapture the orchards of the past.
But when you read Julia Love in Reuters, Apple is driving the detail.
Apple's novel approach to the building took many forms. Architect German de la Torre, who worked on the project, found many of the proportions - such as the curve of a rounded corner - came from Apple's products. The elevator buttons struck some workers as resembling the iPhone's home button; one former manager even likened the toilet's sleek design to the device. But de la Torre ultimately saw that Apple executives were not trying to evoke the iPhone per se, but rather following something akin to the Platonic ideal of form and dimension. ”They have arrived at design principles somehow through many years of experimentation, and they are faithful to those principles," de la Torre said.
I suspect many architects would bristle at the words “designed in collaboration,” but Norman Foster is also obsessed with quality and detail, and in the full Architectural Record interview, he does not use the word collaboration.
In my first post on this building in 2011 I wrote:
Albert Camus said "All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door".
So what is one to say about Apple's proposed new headquarters, a building with no corners and no streets? That is it anti-urban, anti-social, anti-environmental and probably anti-Apple. And, that it could signal the end of Apple as a creative juggernaut.
A lot of people do feel that Apple has lost its creative mojo; in the Atlantic, Ian Bogost is scathing about this building and current apple products. He has a point; there is nothing in the new Apple macbooks that make me really want to run out and replace my 2012 macbook pro. It has all become incremental rather than revolutionary.
But now that the building is finished, I am going to stop complaining about it. There is lots to love in the last paragraph of the press release [though I still have to add snark]
Designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners,[did that] Apple Park replaces 5 million-square-feet of asphalt and concrete with [roughly 5,250,000 square feet of asphalt and concrete topped with] grassy fields and over 9,000 native and drought-resistant trees, and is powered by 100 percent renewable energy. With 17 megawatts of rooftop solar, Apple Park will run one of the largest on-site solar energy installations in the world. [that’s up from 8 megawatts originally planned] It is also the site of the world’s largest naturally ventilated building, projected to require no heating or air conditioning for nine months of the year.
Norman Foster is one of the world’s great architects and he has designed a masterpiece here. Let’s leave it at that.
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