If You Care About Cities, Apple's New Campus Sucks

The new headquarters Apple is building in Cupertino has the absolute best door handles. The greatest!

Apple's new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general. [...] By building a mega-headquarters straight out of the middle of the last century, Apple has exacerbated the already serious problems endemic to 21st-century suburbs like Cupertino -- transportation, housing, and economics. Apple Park is an anachronism wrapped in glass, tucked into a neighborhood. [...]

Ten percent of people working in Cupertino means that 90 percent of the people in the Spaceship will commute. Most of them live in San Jose (10 miles east) and San Francisco (45 miles north). The lack of a cohesive regional transportation network in the Bay Area privileges cars, which is why Google and other tech companies started fielding their own buses in the last few years. [...]

Still, though...Apple has $250 billion in cash. Against that, these community benefits feel small. The company could have chipped in to double the frequency of CalTrain's commuter rail. It could have built a transit center in Cupertino, which, unlike Mountain View and Palo Alto, has none. "Apple could have done anything. Money was no object," says Allison Arieff, editorial director for the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association and lead author of its recent report on corporate campuses. "They want to be innovative in everything, and they're not innovative in this thing." Apple is instead making significant improvements to roads and highways. "If the intractable problems of the region are housing and congestion, they're giving the finger to all that," Arieff says. [...]

So what could Apple have built? Something taller, with mixed-use development around it? Cupertino would never have allowed it. But putting form factor aside, the best, smartest designers and architects in the world could have tried something new. Instead it produced a building roughly the shape of a navel, and then gazed into it.

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9 Responses:

  1. CJ says:

    Tech companies didn't start busses because of a lack of regional transport. They did it because they are required by law to provide money for transit to employees -- either pay for public transit or provide their own shuttles. Then they realized for that a bit more money they could provide their own bus system which does away with connections and all the wasted time that implies, and is seen as a perk by employees.

    Plus they might get some more work out of their employees on the bus. That's always good for the ol' bottom line.

    • nope says:

      They absolutely started buses because of a lack of feasible regional transit (and because Silicon Valley is a boring place to live). If it didn't take 2hrs each way by train+bus to and from SF, no one would have cobbled together a private bus fleet to save a little in reimbursed transit fares.

      At Google, it was a grass-roots effort. The bus system was first organized by a product manager who lived in SF and wanted a better option. It wasn't pushed by accounting. I can't speak from personal experience about the other companies, but the Google bus system is a huge benefit to Google employees, so it's not surprising others have followed.

      (Of course, making it viable for lots of tech workers to live in SF made it a much less interesting place by driving everyone else away. I think the Google bus protests were spot on, at least with respect to gentrification.)

      • Yep, at least in my experience, the tech companies hate the transit situation too. The shuttles are not some libertarian dream realized - they hate running them.

        I was one of the first Google employees using the shuttle buses. Maybe CJ has more information than I do. But my impression was that the upper management didn't like the idea of their employees being spread out over the whole SFBA. Everyone accuses them of ruining San Francisco but they resisted employees' calls to open an office there for years and years. It was the employees (especially younger ones) who insisted on not living in the South Bay.

        Google has even proposed building dense housing near their Mountain View campus, or advocated for infrastructure improvements. The city has consistently turned them down. Even as they host the most powerful companies on Earth, these cities like Mountain View and Cupertino are ruled by NIMBYs who want a "small-town" feel.

        • Glaurung says:

          "NIMBYs who want a "small-town" feel."

          And to keep their communities as lily white as possible.

          • Maybe, but in both Mountain View and Sunnyvale, Asians outnumber Whites. But I guess those are mostly tech people, who live quietly and you can pretend they aren't there. Atherton and Palo Alto are still mostly white.

            Although, city government still seems pretty white.

            Come to think of it, it's kind of strange that Google et al. haven't figured a way to dominate these local councils and do more densification. Facebook does stuff with the city of Menlo Park though, they're directly funding a police unit (!!). Turns out you can actually optimize your tax situation too much.

          • Google is trying to add 10,000 dense housing units (they sound like depressing tech bachelor pads, but at least it's something). The city wants like 1/6th of that

  2. From Architectural Record's interview with Norman Foster, which is well worth reading for the Jobsian insanity (link to macrumors because AR requires registration):

    "The car would visually be banished..."

    I've seen the diorama. They "visually banished" the cars by building a 4-story parking garage... and then putting a four-story hill between it and the spaceship. The diorama didn't even have a footpath to the parking structure.

    Then again the thing is designed for 16,000 bodies*, and 70% of Apple's workforce commutes in single-occupancy cars. They only put in two floors of parking for the four floors of offices, so they had to put the rest of those cars somewhere.

    *expect the actual occupancy to be a lot more than that once they start pushing desks together.


  3. Geoff Smith says:

    between this and the new Google campusin San Jose, commuting from here is going to be so painful.

  4. Unholyguy says:

    Why would "something taller" be any better?

    It is not clear there is any solution to this problem if you assume large companies still need to gather their employees physically together

    Also when you build a product and the customer hates using it that isn't the customers fault (looking at you Bay Area transit authorities )

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