Apple has been working on their new headquarters in Cupertino, CA for years and Wired writer Steven Levy called the building "insanely great" after he toured it a month ago. Except now, Wired writer Dan Winters just said the corporate campus "sucks."
Uh...so there is a problem here. How can something be "insanely great" and "suck" at the same time? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
In Winters' article, he points out the many flaws that come with the design of a suburban headquarters that isolates its workers from the rest of the community, "From that angle, Apple's new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general." Isolation was the ideal in the 1950s. Major corporations hired big-name architects to design all-encompassing campuses. In his Wired article, Winters spoke with Louise Mozingo, a landscape architect at UC Berkeley and she described that 50's culture as "a kind of splendid isolation that was seen as productive, capturing the employees for an entire day and in the process reinforcing an insular corporate culture."
Apple's isolation works in contrast to other new corporate headquarters being built in Silicon Valley. Google, for example, has worked with the town of Mountain View to encourage housing development nearby for Google employees to live close enough to work to walk or bike. Apple's design, despite their claims, really only encourages automobile commuting. Housing is at a premium all over the Bay Area and Apple has done little to help address that.
Apple Park (as it's known) also bucks a thread towards more urbanization. After 40 or 50 years of companies fleeing cities in favor of lavish suburban headquarters, like General Motors building a huge technical center in Warren, MI in the 1950s or Union Carbide building its unique headquarters in Danbury, CT in the 1980s, the trend has reversed. A famous current example: General Electric has announced they are relocating from suburban Connecticut to Boston. Salesforce.com is moving to an enormous corporate tower in San Francisco.
But here's the real issue: what happens if Apple moves or goes out of business? What happens with its unique building then? Even if it's many years from now? As the Winters' article points out, "You start in a garage, take over half a floor in a crummy office park, then take over the full floor, then the building, then get some venture capital and move to a better office park...And then when a bust comes or your new widget won't widge, you let some leases lapse or sell some real estate," and another company moves in. Buildings can be built to live on longer than the companies they house. With a crazy campus like Apple Park, that probably won't happen. Just look at the aforementioned Union Carbide building (below) from the 80s. It's 30 years later and it still has really been repurposed properly yet, no one seems to be able to find a good way to do it.
Apple Park is beautiful. It has what many people desire in a building. It is architecturally dramatic. It's as green as a building can be, with renewable energy powering almost all of Its electric needs and roofs that catch rainwater for watering the pristine landscaping of plants native to the area. It's filled with refined finishes inside like "custom-built door handles, and a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center complete with a two-story yoga room covered in stone, from just the right quarry in Kansas, that's been carefully distressed, like a pair of jeans, to make it look like the stone at Jobs' favorite hotel in Yosemite." But it ignores a few fundamental design features that would make a truly remarkable headquarters, which is why Wired seems to have decided it "sucks." We don't disagree.
Check out a cool drone video of the campus as it was getting close to completion.
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