Will Apple Create the Next Great Building?

A giant spaceship is destined to land in Cupertino, CA – at least if Apple CEO Steve Jobs gets his way with the city council.  The new building will accommodate 12,000 employees and house its own green-energy power plant.  Apple’s current headquarters accommodates approximately 2,800 people, Jobs said.  “We’ve got almost 12,000 people in the area,” he said.  “So we’re renting buildings — not very good buildings, either — at an ever-greater radius from our campus and we’re putting people in those.  And it’s clear that we need to build a new campus.”

As envisioned, the new campus would be built on about 150 acres of land that the tech giant owns.  Jobs said Apple’s plan would involve tearing down buildings currently on the site and constructing a new ring-shaped building that would be four stories tall, with four floors of parking underneath and a large landscaped courtyard in the middle.  If approved, the project will increase landscaping to approximately 80 percent of the site, which currently is 20 percent trees, plants and grass.

“And we’ve used our experience in making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use,” Jobs said.  The campus wouldn’t be powered by Cupertino’s energy grid.  Instead, an on-site power facility will provide 100 percent of energy.  “I think what we’re going to end up doing is making the energy center our primary source of power, because we can generate power with natural gas and other ways that can be cleaner and cheaper, and use the grid as our backup,” Jobs said.  “We think that makes more sense.”

Mayor Gilbert Wong said that Cupertino is excited that Apple is moving forward with a new campus, an idea first suggested to the city in 2006.  “When Apple submits their building plans later this year, we know that we will be looking at a state-of-the-art facility and all the challenges and opportunities that go along with that,” Wong said.  The review process will be the same as any other construction project, with evaluations of environmental impacts, air quality, traffic and other matters.  “The project will come to the City Council for approval in the fall of 2012,” Wong said.  “Following approval, Apple can submit building permits.  Construction will follow, and Apple and the city expects the new campus to be completed by 2015.”

“I think we’ve found a way to stay in Cupertino,” Jobs said, reminding the city council that “since we’re your largest taxpayers, we thought you’d be happy about it.”

In a town with a population of 55,162, Jobs’ announcement was an important event.  Asked about the design, in which Jobs has reportedly played a role, city council members said they were impressed when they first saw it.  “It’s so, well, pretty,” said Councilman Barry Chang.  “Wow! is the operative term,” said Councilman Orrin Mahoney.  “There’s nothing like it.  And while some people might wonder why a CEO would get so involved at such a level of detail around a company headquarters, with Steve, it’s not surprising.”

The four-story, circular campus is said to be the design of superstar British architect Norman Foster.  “We do have a shot at building the best office building in the world,” Jobs said, adding that it won’t contain a straight piece of glass.  “Architecture students will come here to see this.”  Here’s a video of Jobs announcing the building.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dave Kansas points out that snazzy new office buildings are not always successful.  According to Kansas,  “Companies that build fancy, new digs often do so at just about the wrong time from a market perspective.  Splurging on a new corporate palace doesn’t necessarily improve the profit picture.  And there’s a clutch of anecdotal evidence that would support that notion.”

Kit Eaton of Fast Times noticed a strong resemblance between the Apple design and a security-heavy location in the United Kingdom.  “We just have one question for Steve.  Has he ever been to Cheltenham, England?  You know, the home of famous horse races, hats, posh private schools, and the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters.  GCHQ, spy-central for the Brits.  A glass-fronted spaceship-like ring, with glass-roofed atria, good green credentials, and a private-access garden concealed inside the giant ‘O’.”