Apple’s new HQ
Why the future is doughnut-shaped
As an Apple fan you’ve probably heard all about the new Apple Campus by now. The doughnut-shaped building that looks more like a spaceship than an office. With work well underway, and the building starting to take shape on the ground, it’s time to revisit the project and see how it’s getting on.
In 2010 Apple purchased a 98-acre campus from Hewlett Packard (HP), containing offices and car parks, just up Interstate 280 from its current headquarters in Cupertino, California. Five years previously Apple had started mopping up adjoining properties and announced they wanted to build a new campus on it, but the residents of Cupertino could only guess at the reasons for Apple’s latest, massive land grab. Surely this was too much land for even Apple’s grand designs? Then on 7 June 2011, Apple CEO Steve Jobs turned up at the Cupertino City Council to reveal Apple’s plans.
Despite looking noticeably thin (sadly, Jobs died from cancer later that year), he was in buoyant mood. Apple, he declared, was “growing like a weed”, which meant the company had run into difficulties trying to find suitable offices for all its staff in its beloved Cupertino.
But of course Apple didn’t want to build a typical set of corporate offices. Instead, it wanted a brand new kind of megastructure at the heart of a huge campus that looked like the exact opposite of a corporate headquarters. Jobs was
at the council offices to get the planning permission for his new venture. And, typically, he was going to pull out all the stops to get it.
To set the scene, Jobs told the story of how the land itself was sacred to Apple folklore. At the same time as a young Steve was working in his pivotal first job for his technology idols, HP had secured the area for its new campus. But before that, Jobs remembered that the area was part of the traditional landscape of California from his youth – acres of fruit trees and apricot orchards (which becomes relevant later).
Much like he had wowed the world’s media at the launch of the iPhone, Jobs wowed the city councillors with tantalising artist impressions of what the new HQ would look like – a kind of flying saucer, or a large doughnut if we’re honest – four storeys high, sat in 175 acres of lush green parkland filled with trees. “We’ve seen these office parks with lots of buildings, and they get boring pretty fast, and we want to do something better than that", explained Jobs, commenting on the futuristic, UFO-shaped building.
The main building is a perfect circle, with curved glass all around. “There’s not a straight piece of glass in this building”, said Jobs. Adding: “If you know about building, you know that this is not the cheapest way to build something”.
Apple rarely spares any expense in its offices. It has over 300 retail stores, and while they all share a common theme of bright, airy open space,
Everything in this project is hand crafted. It’s pushing the boundaries of technology
with lots of glass and wooden tables, each one is unique and designed to perfectly complement its surroundings. Because of the Apple Store in Pudong, Shanghai, the company has a lot of experience in building with, and manufacturing, curved glass. In fact, the Shanghai Apple Store contains the largest pieces of curved and toughened glass ever manufactured. “We know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use,” boasted Jobs. “It’s pretty cool.”
“This project is pushing the boundaries of technology in almost every aspect”, says Stefan Behling, an architect from Foster + Partners speaking in Apple’s promotional video for the new campus. “The facade will be new, the glazing is a completely new system, never been done before, the concrete structure is unique. Everything is hand crafted for this project.”
The interior of the office space is also anything but conventional. Few details have emerged, but Behling is keen to point out that “we have a building that is pushing social behaviour and the way people work to new limits.”
While the doughnut-shaped main building is remarkable, perhaps the biggest feature of Apple’s super campus is what they’re not building on the site. A staggering 80% of the site will be landscaped parkland, and to make this possible Apple has decided to put most of the parking underground.
Another way the campus buildings work in harmony with their surroundings is their height – all the structures on the site are only four storeys high. So while the main building may dominate in terms of size, it’s not going to artificially tower over its surroundings like a skyscraper would.
Powerful stance Like all other companies, Apple is dependent on the power grid, and if there’s an outage they don’t want to have to send everybody home for the day. The site will have its own power source as a backup. In fact, in typical Apple thinking, Steve revealed that the energy centre could become the primary source of power for the campus, since Apple can generate its own power using solar panels in ways that are cleaner and cheaper than conventional grid power, and use the grid as their backup. Not even public electricity is good enough for Apple!
Another feature of the new campus is a specially designed auditorium. Part of Apple’s whole run up to releasing a new product is the keynote delivered by the CEO. Currently the company has to go to San Francisco to host these events, usually at the Moscone Centre, or the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts over the road, presumably at vast expense and inconvenience. With a purpose-built, auditorium in their own backyard, Apple will be able to stay home while the world’s press comes to visit.
But let’s return to Steve Jobs presenting to the Cupertino City Council in 2011. All he needed was the council to give Apple planning permission for the building. It was clear Jobs, perhaps the greatest salesman in history, wasn’t going to walk away from the meeting empty handed. Wowed by his movie star-like presence,
the council put up zero resistance (there was one question about what local residents would get out of the campus under the guise of a demand for free Wi-Fi, but Jobs brushed it off with the thinly veiled threat of taking their tax dollars to Mountain View if the council denied him here).
Unsurprisingly the Cupertino City Council folded to Jobs and his tax dollars quicker than new iPad Airs fly off the shelves, the project got the go-ahead it needed and Jobs left a happy man.
Of course, Steve Jobs died in October that same year without ever seeing ground broken on a project that could arguably become his greatest legacy. After all, Apple Campus 2 will still be here long after the Mac, iPhone and iPad are consigned to footnotes in history. It’s ironic that Jobs didn’t live to see Apple Campus 2 completed, because it carries all his hallmarks. Part futuristic mothership, part nostalgic recreation of his childhood years, it combines his twin obsession with sleek minimalist design and ground-breaking innovation.
Jobs once said, “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
If the new Apple campus lives up to the perfect, understated simplicity and attention to detail of its designs, it’s looks will be a fitting tribute to the man who founded Apple.
Steve Jobs was determined that Apple’s new HQ would be different. But was his circular
design inspired by UFOs of doughnuts?
All parking will be underground and an extraordinary 80% of the site will be landscaped parkland.