Beyond Buildings


Apple Control Central Hovers into Visibility—Barely

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Apple campus plan. Courtesy: Dezeen


Apple has revealed more information about its new headquarters, and I am not sure that I am more or less excited and worried then when they it announced the imminent landing of its spaceship. One thing appears to be pretty certain: it will be built, given the fact that the company is sitting on a cash pile of about $67 billion. Also, it will be the most singular statement of corporate identity since the Seagram Building.


Seagram Building. Courtesy: Wikispaces


Like that black monolith, Apple Central will have a clear and singular form. It is a donut. It will be a very large donut, housing 13,000 employees in over 3 million square feet of space. Like the Seagram, it will be clad in a glass skin that will be as slick as current technology will allow. There, however, the analogies end.


The Seagram Building is an object you can comprehend at a glance. This landscraper will be only four stories tall and, both because it will sit in a forested enclave and because it is so large, you will never be able to comprehend it as a singular object. It will always be bigger than you, and as such difficult to comprehend. I suppose you will be able to stand in the middle of this Panopticon without a control tower and twirl around to take the whole thing in, but then you will be completely surrounded.


If the Seagram Building sublimated sin (alcohol) into an architecture that combined the abstract systems of modern business with the uniforms of the businesspeople who controlled the flows of money, Apple Central turns the fact that money and power have become etherized into an overwhelming reality.


There is a logic to this structure, which Apple and Foster are happy to lay out: by tearing down a hodge-podge of low-rise structures surrounded by surface parking, they can provide 40 percent more workers with space inside a building that covers 30 percent less space. Part of the trick is underground parking, which is an expensive strategy. Another part of the efficiency will no doubt be that all the workers lining up in the endlessly curving corridors that, in plan at least, resemble something from a science fiction movie, will work in stations that meet current standards—which is to say less and less square feet per person.


The building also bucks the trend toward emphasizing communal activities, meetings, and support facilities as workplace anchors. If there are gyms, cafeterias with gourmet stations, daycare facilities, wildly colored breakout rooms, or muted refocus spaces, they are not evident in the plans. The architecture expresses repressed, streamlined, and optimized creativity, not experimentation.


Union Carbide. Courtesy: The News-Times


In this, Apple is bucking the trend toward seeing the workplace as a place for social relations and collective experimentation, rather than for task-oriented production. It is also the first company to create such a clear image in the computer era. The clearest precedents are the Pentagon and the massive campuses that Kevin Roche, FAIA, designed for the likes of Union Carbide in the 1980s. This, however, is something new: Apple is making itself at home in a spaceship from which products will emanate in a way so mysterious it can only heighten our sense of wonder—or dread.


Grand Central Apple Store. Courtesy: Gothamist


Meanwhile, on the other coast, there are images of the Apple store that I noted was slated for Grand Central Station. There, Apple disappears completely. If the renderings are to be believed, you will see nothing from the main concourse, because Apple will rely on its minimalist design of parson's tables with embedded technology. Here the ephemeral part of what the slickest company on earth does takes over again, in a manner that appeals more to me than Control Central in Cupertino.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.