The Corporate Mediocrity of 21st Century America. This example via SOM.
I found it very amusing, the hype surrounding Apple’s unveiling of their proposed “UFO” corporate headquarters/campus at a Cupertino City Council meeting in June 2011. How many global behemoths receive media attention for designing a new world headquarters? Watching the Cupertino City Council fawn over the local home-grown tech royalty was borderline charming. I was hoping they would form a line to kneel and kiss the ring.
Whatever one thinks of Steve Jobs and his reputation for being a hardass, his singular focus on a platonic ideal of product perfection is extraordinary and his Apple is the signature example of an American corporation embracing “deep design”. The products that have been born under his stewardship have transformed the company from near bankrupt to being one of the most valuable in the world. So, the design of a new world headquarters under Steve’s notoriously perfectionist eye is interesting in this respect: it is Jobs’ bequeathment to the realm of large-scale architecture.
Apple’s current 1 Infinite Loop campus always struck me as lazy and lackadaisical. It was completed in 1993 by Sobrato Development Company. You hardly need to see the building after hearing the name of it’s designer. This was the post-pre-Jobs era. The pre-Jobs II era. This was the Apple of Centris, Performa, Newton, Mac TV, Pippin, revolving CEO’s, Copland, etc. I’m surprised Steve didn’t kill this headquarters the way he killed the Newton. Turn it into a mall, perhaps.I suppose that awesome address, 1 Infinite Loop, saved it.
The geometric purity of the new UFO is typical Jobs. He once said about the original iMac, his first major new product after returning to Apple in 1997: “the back of our computers look better than the front of theirs”. In typical Jobsian attention to detail, the roof of this building looks more pristine than the front of most. The way Jobs waxes rhapsodic about the lack of a single flat piece of glass in the facade is the reality-distortion-field applied to architecture.
Like most Apple products, pictures won’t be able to do this justice. Apple does excellent product photography but it can’t capture the quality of presence in the objects it produces in a photograph. You have to see, touch, feel, experience in full 3D reality. My guess is this building will be the same.
The idea that Jobs is a megalomaniacal control freak is ok with me. I imagine many great artists in history were major assholes. Creating something great is hard work, takes time, determination, focus and that may necessarily exclude certain qualities in individuals like compassion and kindness. Especially around “the work”.
David Galbraith has a nice write-up about the proposed Campus and its architect, Norman Foster Partners. Here is a great quote where he compares the style of having an auteur director of a large organization that he feels reflects both Apple and Foster:
The boss maintains control of the overall house style by cleaning up the edges at the same time as having a vision for the whole, like trying to maintain a sand pile by scooping up the bits that fall off as it erodes in the wind.
It’s a wonderful encapsulation of these two design giants coming together to create a lasting vision of design, living and work.