Paul Goldberger criticizes Apple’s new HQ

So this is my first blog post in a rather long while. My apologies. I promise I’ll blog much more often.

A rendering of Apple's proposed headquarters. Graphic courtesy KlingPost.

Remember my post about Apple’s unfortunate new headquarters building a few months ago? I quoted Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times’s architecture critic and one of the first to review the building, quite extensively in his criticism. Now, Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times and current New Yorker architecture critic, joins the cause (actually he posted this a while ago; I just didn’t see it until now). Check out what he has to say after the break.

Here goes:

[The architect Norman] Foster has proposed a gargantuan glass-and-metal ring, four stories high, with a hole in the middle a third of a mile wide. The building, which will house upwards of twelve thousand employees, will have a circumference of a mile, and will be so huge that you won’t really be able to perceive its shape, except from the air. Like everything Foster does, it will be sleek and impeccably detailed, but who wants to work in a gigantic donut? Steve Jobs, speaking to the Cupertino City Council, likened the building to a spaceship. But buildings aren’t spaceships, any more than they are iPhones.

Exactly right. And later:

With this building, there seems to be very little sense of any connection to human size. Flexibility is a hallmark of the iPad, and it counts in architecture, too, but how much flexibility is there in a vast office governed entirely by geometry? For all of Foster’s sleekness, this Apple building seems more like a twenty-first-century version of the Pentagon.

A size comparison of Apple’s new building. Graphic courtesy cytalk.com.

And, towards the end of his blog post, he makes this very interesting point:

When companies plan wildly ambitious, over-the-top headquarters, it is sometimes a sign of imperial hubris. A.T. & T. was broken up not too long after it moved into Johnson and Burgee’s famously grandiose “Chippendale skyscraper” on Madison Avenue. General Foods did not last too long after taking occupancy of the glass-and-metal palace Kevin Roche designed for it in Westchester County, and Union Carbide fell apart after it moved into another Roche building in Danbury, Connecticut. The New York Times Company’s stock price plummeted after it moved into its Renzo Piano building on Eighth Avenue, and they [sic] now lease the home they built for themselves.

An excellent observation. Since architecture is generally a manifestation of a number of societal factors, this makes a good deal of sense. He goes on:

Architecture isn’t in itself a cause of corporate decline—that notion is ridiculous—but overbearing buildings can sometimes be a symptom of companies losing touch with reality, and this problem will manifest itself in other ways. It’s said that Steve Jobs considers this building to be a key part of his legacy, which would be unfortunate, because it would mean that his last contribution to his company might well be his least meaningful.

Exactly right. Now I, a proud new iPad owner (this blog now displays a special touch-optimized theme to iPad users) and generally a fan of Apple’s consumer products, find all this quite disturbing, particularly given Apple’s proven capacity for leadership. The  architecture of emblems matters a lot for our society, and this is not good architecture.

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