Notes On Apple’s New ‘Mothership’ Campus

This is an insightful cover article on Apple’s new headquarters by Steven Levy (@stevenlevy) from the WIRED magazine. The campus was Steve Jobs’ dream and his finest design creation which has transformed into a futuristic architectural marvel today (and fondly identified as the ‘Ring’). Some quick notes from the write-up below.

  • The new campus was built according to Steve Jobs’ vision, he idealized California and based many of his ideas on his favorite features of the Bay Area in his youth. Jobs wanted to create a new campus ‘where the border between nature and building would be blurred’.
  • Steve Jobs dedicated a large amount of his last two years of life in the design of the building, where he would swoop down on the details he demanded and the meetings would often last 5-6 hours!

  • Apple initially purchased 75 acres of an industrial park in Cupertino, not far from its current headquarters at Infinite Loop, that was largely covered with asphalt but Jobs envisioned a hilly terrain with walking paths. By 2010, a 100-acre plot of the former HP campus was available just north of Apple’s planned site. A deal was worked out by Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’s head of facilities, and the project area grew to its present size of 175 acres!
  • The new campus has been designed by the London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners, a Pritzker Prize winning studio which has previously commissioned the Berlin Reichstag, Hong Kong International airport, and London’s infamous *Gherkin* tower. At its peak, there were 250 people from the firm working on Apple’s project!
  • The Ring was not what Steve Jobs had in mind when he started talking about a new campus in 2004, as with any Apple product, the shape of its workplace was also determined by its role. So expanding on Steve Jobs’ idea of modular sections or ‘pods’ Foster + Partners initially came up with the shape of a bloated cloverleaf with three lobes doing a Möbius around a center core. Jobs immediately realized that it won’t work, and so by June 2010, it came up with the current circular ‘ring’ design to encourage socialization and team collaboration.
  • The Ring is a 2.8 million square feet structure which would eventually house 12,000 employees. The campus also includes a 100,000 square feet fitness and wellness center complete with a two story yoga room, a 755-foot white-tile tunnel connecting Wolfe Road to the campus and the Ring’s underground parking, a 1000-seat Steve Jobs Theater on a hilltop, and underground parking spaces of 3000 with above-ground parking of 6000.
  • Seele Group, a German company was engaged to create the largest, strongest pieces of glass in the world which would also be curved! They’d previously collaborated with Apple on the design of the huge glass cage on their Fifth Avenue store in New York.
  • The walls of the Ring are made up of 45-foot-tall panels of safety glass, while the process of forging and baking a single panel would take up to 14-hours! Hence, Seele worked with its autoclave manufacturer to develop a much bigger cooker which could stack five panels at the same time. Apple needed 800 panels in total.
  • Seele was also hired to produce ‘canopies’ or the fins which gave the Ring a space-age vibe (Steve Jobs originally disliked the idea). To make sure that rainwater rolled off the canopies the designers at Apple and Foster + Partners ended up consulting a 1994 study out of the University of Minnesota – “The Teapot Effect: Sheet-Forming Flows With Deflection, Wetting, and Hysteresis” that informed how the canopies would curve to deflect rain.
  • Though Apple won’t officially confirm the project has reportedly cost $5 billion!
  • Apple will ultimately plant almost 9,000 trees of drought-tolerant varieties so that the meadows and mini-forest would be able to survive a climate crisis like a drought or famine. Steve Jobs was adamant that the new campus house indigenous flora, and in particular fruit trees from the orchards he remembered from growing up in Northern California.
  • To withstand earthquakes, the Ring is mounted on huge steel base isolators to make sure the building can move up to 4.5 feet in any direction.
  • Apple claims its buildings will run solely on sustainable energy, most of it from the 805,000 square feet of solar arrays on the campus.
  • Jobs hated air-conditioning so he insisted on natural ventilation. The Ring inhales air through soffits (undersides of the canopies) along its perimeter – a building that breathes just like the people who work inside it. The heating or cooling system will kick in only on very hot or cold days.
  • The details were largely crafted by Foster + Partners and Jony Ive’s design team who customer-developed almost every aspect of the building, down to the wash basins and faucets. The most amazing fact – Francesco Longoni, the maestro of the Apple Park café, helped Apple patent a box that will keep to-go pizzas from getting soggy.
  • It didn’t feel right to name the entire campus after Steve Jobs, so they named the 1000 seat theater after him.
  • The link below to the WIRED article has some amazing pictures of the new campus.

Source: Apple’s New Campus: An Exclusive Look Inside the Mothership | WIRED