Space-Age Architecture: Apple’s Mothership Lands in Cupertino

Space-Age Architecture: Apple’s Mothership Lands in Cupertino

This past fall Apple went bigger than ever, expanding their iPhone 6 offerings in size to satisfy a market hungry for screen space and digital content. But it’s not just their devices that are growing. In Cupertino, CA, a gargantuan new headquarters—called, naturally, Apple Campus 2: is currently under construction. Once it’s completed in 2016, the ring-shaped building will take up 2.8 million square feet, house 13,000 employees, and cost more than $5 billion. And with a company as influential and trendsetting as Apple, it may help define how we think of the tech workspace.

Apple Campus 2 seems to be part of a trend of larger, more centralized corporate headquarters. Perhaps ironically in an age of telecommunication and increased specialization, planners have started to see the rewards of aggregating talent and resources in a single location. And after years of delays, permitting hassles, and ballooning budgets, Apple Campus 2 is finally back on track.

The mega-structure is the work of famed British architect Sir Norman Foster, whose high-tech-styled work has included skyscrapers, office buildings, and the high-profile Reichstag building renovation in Berlin. However, it’s Foster’s work on Beijing’s Airport—one of the world’s largest buildings by floor space—that seems closest in spirit to his Apple Campus 2.

The Best Office Building in the World

In undertaking the Campus project, Foster will be carrying out Steve Jobs’s grand vision to build “the best office building in the world.” In fact, Jobs’s last public appearance was made before Cupertino’s city council, where he advocated for the massive building’s construction. Just as with Apple’s detail-focused products, the construction standards for the Campus are at the mercy of the late Jobs’s perfectionism—as he demanded that all gaps in Campus surfaces be no greater than 1/32 inch—far more precise than the industry standard of 1/8 inch.

Jobs’s vision for a headquarters was a space that physically encouraged collaboration, congregation, and chance encounter. Jobs was also proud to eliminate right angles and boxy design, favoring curved surfaces wherever possible.

As the name suggests, the Apple Campus is largely modeled after a university concept. Instead of the conventional collection of separate, purpose-specific buildings, however, Foster has integrated them all into one continuous circle. The interior green-space, too, is based on a collegiate concept: Stanford University’s large central Main Quad.

Variously called “the Mothership” and “the Donut” by observers and critics, the four-story Kubrickian structure is set to rise over 176 acres of prime Silicon Valley real estate. What’s surprising, however—considering the substantial cost and hassle of wrangling all of that land—is how much of it will remain green. Whereas a year ago, the site consisted of only 20% landscape and 80% asphalt and building, the Apple campus will reverse the ratio and create a plot that is 80% green-space and 20% developed.

Both the Campus’s surroundings and the large interior section of the ring is meant to resemble undeveloped and natural California landscape, evoking the environment where Jobs himself grew up. The site will provide a home to more than 7000 trees. In other words, Apple is building itself a massive orchard—including cherry, plum, apricot, and yes, apple trees.

Just Like Apple…

To complete the visual picture, cars have been “banished” from the plan. One large parking garage will lie underground to preserve the pristine, natural landscape, while another parking complex will be placed far from the main building, out of view. To encourage easy on-site mobility, the Campus will include 1000 shared bicycles. On-site jogging trails will promote a healthier lifestyle for employees, as will a massive, 100,000 square foot fitness center.

The view from the workspaces, too, should be magnificent. In lieu of opaque walls, Foster has opted for windows wherever possible. The building’s custom concave glass will stretch 40 feet from floor to ceiling, offering uninterrupted views of the verdant surroundings.

What might be most impressive about the building, however, is its host of sustainability initiatives. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has promised that the Campus will be “the greenest building on the planet,” matching the company’s recent commitment to reducing its environmental impact. The goal for the building is to meet net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, with natural ventilation maintaining interior temperature 75% of the year. Solar panels will cover the main building and parking structures, and the Campus will use 100% renewable energy.

We’ve become used to the world turning its attention to Cupertino for buzz-filled product launches. Now, with the Apple Campus 2, it may be the venue itself that draws the most attention. A planned 1,000-seat all-glass auditorium dedicated to its famous keynotes is also included in the Campus plans. Get ready for some breathless blog posts.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / DECEMBER 2014 – Amazing Buildings