Apple's proposed new headquarters in Cupertino, California is a giant 2.8 million square foot ring, complete with state-of-the-art curved glass windows and a massive emphasis on landscaping. In his presentation to the Cupertino city council in June, Steve Jobs said that the new campus could house over 12,000 people and over 7,000 trees.
And according to L.A. Times Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, it will be a "retrograde cocoon."
In a piece published over the weekend, Hawthorne discusses his perceived problems with the expansive new campus. He uses Steve Job's proclamation that the new building would be "like a spaceship landed" to criticize the proposed campus as "doggedly old-fashioned."
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.
Not only is he critical of the design and the implied anti-green effects of the new campus, but he also criticizes the Cupertino city council for not pressing Jobs enough on the details behind the new project.
At Jobs' initial proposal, the city council appeared giddy with excitement. This led to a lot of chatter about their "fanboy" reactions to Jobs. Hawthorne asks why the council didn't press Jobs about the actual architect behind the project. He discusses Jobs' tight-lipped practices when it comes to design, saying -
In his appearance before the City Council he said Apple had "hired some great architects to work with — some of the best in the world, I think." But he never mentioned the high-wattage name of Norman Foster or the London firm Foster + Partners, whose logo is stamped on the preliminary plans for the campus. (Those plans are available for download on Cupertino's website, cupertino.org.)
It is a measure of Jobs' tight grip on Apple's reputation for in-house design innovation that even after hiring a celebrity architect like Foster he would keep that architect's name under wraps; even now, three months after Jobs took the plans public in that council meeting, the Apple press office refuses to confirm that Foster + Partners indeed designed the project.
You can see Job's proposal and the council's reaction in this video -
In a nutshell, Hawthorne's criticism is that the new campus "wraps its workers in a suburban setting," away from the connection of the city. The new campus can be described as isolated and disengaged from civic space. Does the city council's "enthusiasm" for the new project serve as a promotion of a "car-dependent approach to city and regional planning" that was good in the 70's, but not so good anymore?
It's all about connection, or in this case, the lack therof -
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.
What do you think? Does a huge suburban campus like the one proposed by Apple promote isolation?
Read more about the actual plans at cupertino.org.