New Apple “Mega-Ring” Campus Would Be Better if Apple Employees Could Live There.

dan sturges

New Apple “Mega-Ring” Campus Would Be Better if Apple Employees Could Live There.

By Dan Sturges

If you didn’t catch Steve Jobs presenting Apple’s plans for a new corporate campus to Cupertino (CA) City Council, then you really should check it out.  A humble Mr. Jobs revealed an ultra-sexy Norman Foster designed new “beehive” for his company. As we all know, Steve Jobs has accomplished so much in his life, and this new campus comes across as a triumph for him.  The design is very compelling, but it could be better in one major way; it could be less car-centric.

The styling of the mega-ring-shaped “campus” is flat-out stunning. It takes the current corporate campus paradigm – a smear of uninteresting buildings and large surface parking lots – and turns it on its head.  Apple’s new campus plans for 20% growth and will accommodate 12,000 employees. They are making an effort to become more environmentally friendly by increasing landscaping, doubling the amount of trees and removing surface parking, and even having on-site clean energy generation.

But the design should be viewed with a wider view and x-ray goggles. Here we can see what may become California’s largest underground depository of parked automobiles.  (In fact there is not enough room underground for all the cars and Apple will also build a large 4-story above ground parking structure as well). Just peripheral of the campus are the traffic-clogged 280, 85, and 101 “freeways”.  While Jobs mentioned a growing number of Apple employees commuting by bike and bus, it sounds like the site will offer a parking space to well over 90% of the total number of employees and visitors.  While Apple’s new campus looks really modern, this is very much a last century “car-land” design.

FearLess readers know this is no time for business as usual.  Humanity has a massive challenge to respond to climate change.  We need to adopt low carbon transportation ASAP.  By building a car-centric company center in a fairly suburban setting, Apple misses an opportunity to respond to this urgent need.

One way to reduce transportation impacts is to eliminate the need to drive in the first place.  It is ironic to me to see an elite ICT company wanting so many of their employees work physically in the same place.  IBM has a very large amount of their employees working from home offices.  While Apple makes the tools for millions of us to tele-access our world, they don’t seem to believe in it for themselves - when it comes to their own company.

So Apple wants their employees to work together, press the flesh, and be in the same place. OK, I can understand that.  So why not push this Foster design a little further. Instead of this 4-story ring design, add another ring or two and allow the site to house let’s say one third of the company’s employees and their families if they wanted to live there?  Yes, I’m talking about making this an Apple company town or village.

There could be micro-dwellings incorporated into this site and still keep much of the same feeling.  Ultra sleek micro-condos could be perfect for employees and families that wanted to live close to work and not need to own a car.

Even smaller dwellings could be designed into the plan for employees that worked fewer (but longer) days and needed a very simple and efficient personal place to sleep.  A 3-day work week (12 hour days), would allow employees to only drive to work once a week and stay 2 nights in a place just a bit larger than the Japanese capsule hotels - but spend most nights a week at their home.

It would be challenging to re-vision this new Apple campus to incorporate dwellings, but if anyone could do it, it would be Norman Foster.  It’s not Apple’s responsibility to make a model new corporate campus, and they have already gone past so many others.  But the companies leaving suburbia for dense downtown office centers are likely doing more to address the need to redefine our world to be low carbon than Apple.


Jun 11, 11 4:56 pm

or, you could just plan it near public transportation, or arrange a new line. and you could design the buildings so they contribute to the urban space of the community instead of making--as far as we know it--a giant private park with a sculptural form in the middle. these solutions can be found through design instead of making people move to their offices.

alexandra lange has written an insightful critique here.

also, i fail to see the stunning part of the ring. if you're going to build a totally irresponsible suburban monument in the middle of the park, at least go all zaha about it (not that you should, as per m comment). but a ring?

Jun 13, 11 1:37 pm  · 

but wouldn't the integration of transportation and housing lets say create more of a walkable TOD, sort of suburban urbanism?  If so isn't that not really as Lange writes a "an inward-looking, hermetic, heterotopic corporate world."

Jun 13, 11 7:15 pm  · 
won and done williams

I agree with aml. For such a progressive company, they certainly weren't pushing progressive urbanism with this design. And I think the writer gives Foster a little too much credit. Foster is an object maker, not a city builder. I also disagree with the writer that a better solution would be to ring the campus with housing. Who wants to live in a suburban office park? Snoresville. Companies not racing back to the cities will soon be losing their edge looking for young talent. People want to live (and work) in great cities, not just great buildings.

Jun 13, 11 9:31 pm  · 


Aug 27, 11 6:41 pm  · 

You say that people want to live in cities but Cupertino is across the street from San Jose, the largest city in northern California. It is a city already, the third largest after LA and San Diego, but it looks and functions much different than a walkable city like San Francisco. Try building anything in San Francisco. It's almost as bad as trying to build in Scotland. As far as Foster being an "object maker" and not a "city builder," I don't agree. If you've been to his HQ in London and sat at the tea bar, you will quickly realize that the hall is like a miniature street and the people watching and interaction are quite amazing. We'll see what happens at Masdar. Cities are strange beasts.

Aug 28, 11 11:31 am  · 

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