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Foster lands spaceship for Apple

Normally, I am not interested in city council planning presentations. Sometimes I am, but usually if there is some self-interest based on my current properties. Yesterday, however, I watched with interest (for over 20 minutes) a You Tube clip covering a Cupertino City Council session for a new office proposal: Steve Jobs was presenting a scheme for a new Apple HQ office.

I was particularly intrigued over several aspects. First, the scheme is basically a doughnut sitting in a landscaped park. Immediately I recalled an undergraduate course where we had to design a spaceship for 12,000 people to live on, as the end of the world was coming (coincidently this aligned with the end of the semester, when our group project was due).

Steve Jobs, in his cool geekness, has developed many innovative and successful designs in the technology industry. Some were pet projects, like creating a cube computer, because ‘he just wanted to’. Ironically, this spaceship office building is to hold 12,000 people, the same number that is the ‘ideal community size for a space ship’ (somewhere this was researched and confirmed as part of our study project, as we had to design our spaceship for a community of 12,000). It also is reminiscent of this undergrad project do to its shape.  This project space ship needed to replicate a curved, circular tube in order to recreate gravity. The proposed office building is the same shape. I wonder how much of this is based on Jobs’ geeky side, and how much of the overall form and concept was derived from Norman Foster.

Another interesting aspect is how star-struck the council (including the city’s mayor) are in sight and presence of Jobs, and how naïve their questions are to him. Each seems to stare. Each seems to want to say something to him, and complement him, and his company and their products. And each asks inappropriate (or even non-questions): can we as a city receive free wi-fi; can you open an Apple shop in our city; do you know the cement plant nearby, and do you know that it is polluting the air (as if Jobs has the power – and desire – to intervene).

Finally, the design: it’s compelling for Apple. The site is composed of various office buildings, car parks and green spaces off a major arterial route. It currently accommodates 9,500 employees in 2.6 million square feet of space. The proposal will increase employment to nearly 13,000 people in 3.1 million square feet of space. It will increase landscaping by 350% with a 60% increase in trees and reduce surface car parking by 90% (through the introduction of multi-storey and underground car parks.

The scheme is very centric to the company, and perhaps maybe it should be. However, on the public face, it provides six storeys of multi-storey car parking to the key arterial route; no accessible public land; and no opportunity to give back to the community.

When asked what will this project do for the community, Jobs’ reply stressed tax money and employment. Yes this is true, but Apple is an international brand, even a force. As its global headquarters, Jobs explained Cupertino doesn’t have the footfall for an Apple store. Yet this design, he believes, will attract the attention and pilgrimage of architecture students the world over. However, if built, others too would come and visit the world headquarters in Cupertino, and visit the spaceship oddity (taking pictures and buying their next Ipad 4).

Surely, such a design from such an internationally known and appreciated company could do much more than offer taxes and employment numbers for its hometown. I am sure employees will enjoy their new campus, café for 3,000 people and park-like setting. Too bad the public won’t, and too bad for Cupertino residents that the potential of the built environment – to create urban spaces, lively streetscenes and build social bonds – will be lost with this new mega-development. I would hope for more…

See the presentation here:

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1 Comment

  1. It certainly seems that there will be segregation between those that belong to the “space ship” and those that dont.

    I think the designers should pay more attention to the connections between what is going on around the property and the proposed building.

    The forest around the spaceship should also have some clearly defined uses and activities, so it just wont be a forest, but a place people would want to be in. Where is/are the entrance/s to this place anyway?

    Employment was mentioned as one of the major contributors to the community, but at the end he said that it would only increase by 20%. Is there some sort of contradiction? or am I misunderstanding? It seems as if most of the workers already live in this Cupertino area.

    I guess we just have to wait for a more fully developed concept to understand the physcial linkages to the surrounding areas (public transportation, pedestrian etc)….if there are any.

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