New Apple headquarters

A suburban office park for classy people

Well that’s it — Apple’s plan for a new headquarters building. It’s basically a big circular building surrounded by lots of green space on a big plot of land bought from Hewlett Packard in Cupertino, not far from Apple’s current, quite generic headquarters. The design is by Norman Foster. Read on past the break for more.

Though many in the tech world are going crazy over this, with its simple, iconic geometry, green features and lush outdoor areas (people in the tech world don’t often get time outside).

Why a circle?

But there’s a lot that’s questionable here, beginning with the donut shape. I mean, what? Why? Buildings shouldn’t just be in certain shapes because those shapes are memorable. And for all of former Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs’s talk about the building fostering community, one can’t escape the sense that the donut shape is quite contrived, and more likely to create a sort of internal bubble than an organic community. Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times gets it just right in a recent review of the building:

Though the planned building has a futuristic gleam — Jobs told the council “it’s a little like a spaceship landed” — in many ways it is a doggedly old-fashioned proposal, recalling the 1943 Pentagon building as well as much of the suburban corporate architecture of the 1960s and ’70s. And though Apple has touted the new campus as green, its sprawling form and dependence on the car make a different argument.

This new building is just bursting with contradictions.

In its dedication to existing corporate landscape of Silicon Valley, the planned Apple headquarters is a classic example of what Louise A. Mozingo, in a book due out next month from MIT Press, calls “pastoral capitalism.” Tracing the history of the postwar suburban corporate campus, Mozingo, an associate professor in the landscape architecture department at UC Berkeley, calls it very much a product of its era, symbolizing “a particular moment of American economic history” when our corporations were gaining in wealth and global reach and increasingly fleeing the city for the privacy and elbow room of the suburbs.

Hawthorne then goes a little deeper into Mozingo’s book and the implications of corporate suburbia:

Mozingo wraps up her book with an extended critique of the mind-set that corporate architecture of this kind seems to promote. “If all you see in your workday are your co-workers and all you see out your window is the green perimeter of your carefully tended property,” she writes, and you drive to and from work in the cocoon of your private car, “the notion of a shared responsibility in the collective metropolitan realm is predictably distant.”

That’s a very good argument. I have in the past defended the suburbs from unfettered, scathing attacks because I believe they do have some merits, and more importantly, failing to acknowledge their importance simply leads us to ignore the fact that the future of urban planning will not come in the form of ‘co-housing’ communities for people who understandably like access to open space, but would also like to pretend that they are somehow different from all the other suburb-dwellers. No, in the future we’ll have to address the issues posed by the suburbs, and excellently explained by Mozingo, on their own terms, acknowledging their importance and searching for ways to work on their faults.

Hawthorne then makes another good point:

It’s always dangerous to draw too neatly the distinction between the endlessly sprawling suburbs and the dense, vertical city; more and more the lines between the categories are blurred. The rise of Los Angeles over the last century is itself a powerful argument against the idea that low-rise development precludes the kind of vitality or diversity we associate with the most progressive cities.

Point well-taken. Returning to the planned Apple headquarters, he then smartly concludes his review:

Still, the new Apple campus, which the company describes as “a serene and secure environment” for its employees, keeps itself aloof from the world around it to a degree that is unusual even in a part of California dominated by office parks. The proposed building is essentially one very long hallway connecting endlessly with itself.

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2 thoughts on “New Apple headquarters

  1. [...] about playing to the public’s perception of simplicity and traditional elegance. (Remember his plan for a new Apple HQ a couple of months back?) A columnist with a nuanced understanding of the [...]

  2. [...] my post about Apple’s unfortunate new headquarters building a few months ago? I quoted Christopher [...]

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