12 June 2017

Apple’s New Campus: An Exclusive Look


Norman Foster’s sketch of the building’s evolution, from propeller shape to circle.


A RING WAS not what Jobs had in mind when he first started talking about a new campus. Ive thinks it was around 2004 when he and his boss first began discussing a reimagined headquarters. “I think it was in Hyde Park,” he says. “When we used to go to London together, we’d spend a lot of time in these parks. We began talking about a campus where your primary sense was that you were in parkland, with many elements that were almost collegiate—where the connection between what was built and a parkland was immediate, no matter where you were.”


The discussions continued and widened throughout the company, but it wasn’t until 2009 that Apple was ready to actually move on the project. Though vacant land in Cupertino is rare, Apple had purchased 75 acres barely a mile from Infinite Loop, its current headquarters. The company began to seek out the right architectural firm to take on the task, and Jobs came to focus on Norman Foster, a Pritzker Prize winner whose commissions have included the Berlin Reichstag, the Hong Kong airport, and London’s infamous “Gherkin” tower. Jobs called Foster in July 2009 and told him, in Foster’s recollection, that Apple “needed some help.”


Norman Foster, one of Apple Park’s architects, had 250 people working on the project at its height.

Two months later Foster arrived in Cupertino and spent an entire day with Jobs, first at his office at Infinite Loop and later at his home in Palo Alto, and discovered that his new client had a remarkably detailed vision of the glass, steel, stone, and trees that would make up Apple’s new home. As Jobs spoke, Foster furiously sketched in the A4 sketchbook he is never without, creating a “word picture” of what Jobs was envisioning. “His touchstone was the quad at Stanford,” Foster says, referring to the main part of the school’s campus where low-slung academic buildings, arranged around large, leafy outdoor areas and designed with open-air pathways where one can walk along the structures’ edges, offer the sensation of being both inside and out.


Foster soon brought in reinforcements from his London-based firm, Foster + Partners, for the first of many meetings Jobs would have with a growing team of architects. Though he always professed to loathe nostalgia, Jobs based many of his ideas on his favorite features of the Bay Area of his youth. “His briefing was all about California—his idealized California,” says Stefan Behling, a Foster partner who became one of the project leads. The site Apple had bought was an industrial park, largely covered by asphalt, but Jobs envisioned hilly terrain, with sluices of walking paths. He again turned to Stanford for inspiration by evoking the Dish, a popular hiking area near the campus where rolling hills shelter a radio telescope.


The meetings often lasted for five or six hours, consuming a significant amount of time in the last two years of Jobs’ life. He could be scary when he swooped down on a detail he demanded. At one point, Behling recalls, Jobs discussed the walls he had in mind for the offices: “He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just ‘I like oak’ or ‘I like maple.’ He knew it had to be quarter-­cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content. We were all sitting there, architects with gray hair, going, ‘Holy shit!’”


As with any Apple product, its shape would be determined by its function. This would be a workplace where people were open to each other and open to nature, and the key to that would be modular sections, known as pods, for work or collaboration. Jobs’ idea was to repeat those pods over and over: pod for office work, pod for teamwork, pod for socializing, like a piano roll playing a Philip Glass composition. They would be distributed demo­cratically. Not even the CEO would get a suite or a similar incongruity. And while the company has long been notorious for internal secrecy, compartmentalizing its projects on a need-to-know basis, Jobs seemed to be proposing a more porous structure where ideas would be more freely shared across common spaces. Not totally open, of course—Ive’s design studio, for instance, would be shrouded by translucent glass—but more open than Infinite Loop.


“At first, we had no idea what Steve was actually talking about with these pods. But he had it all mapped out: a space where you could concentrate one minute and then bump into another group of people in the next,” Behling says. “And how many restaurants should we have? One restaurant, a huge one, forcing everyone to get together. You have to be able to bump into each other.” In part Jobs was expanding on a concept that he had developed while helping design the headquarters of another company he ran—Pixar—that nudged collaboration by forcing people to stroll longer than usual to the restrooms. (So involved was Jobs in that project that Pixar-­ites call the building “Steve’s Movie.”) In this new project, Jobs was balancing an engineer’s need for intense concentration with the brainstorming that unearths innovation.


To accommodate the pods, the main building took the shape of a bloated clover leaf—people at Apple called it the propeller—with three lobes doing a Möbius around a center core. But over time Jobs realized that it wouldn’t work. “We have a crisis,” he told the architects early in the spring of 2010. “I think it is too tight on the inside and too wide on the outside.” This launched weeks of overtime among Foster’s 100-person team to figure out how to resolve the problem. (Their ranks would eventually reach 250.) In May, as he was sketching in his book, Foster wrote down a statement: “On the way to a circle.”


According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, there was another factor. When Jobs showed a drawing of the clover leaf to his son, Reed, the teenager commented that from the air, the building would look like male genitalia. The next day Jobs repeated the observation to the architects, warning them that from that point on, “you’re never going to be able to erase that vision from your mind.” (Foster and Behling say they have no recollection of this.)


By June 2010 it was a circle. No one takes full credit for the shape; all seem to feel it was inevitable all along. “Steve dug it right away,” Foster says.


By that fall Whisenhunt had heard that a former HP campus in Cupertino might be available. The 100-acre plot was just north of Apple’s planned site. What’s more, it had deep meaning for Jobs. As a young teen he had talked his way into a summer job at HP, just at the time when its founders—Jobs’ heroes—were walking that site and envisioning an office park cluster for their computer systems division. Now HP was contracting and no longer needed the space. Whisenhunt worked a deal, and Apple’s project suddenly grew to 175 acres.


Jobs had always insisted that most of the site be covered with trees; he even took the step of finding the perfect tree expert to create his corporate Arden. He loved the foliage at the Dish and found one of the arborists responsible. David Muffly, a cheerful, bearded fellow with a Lebowski-ish demeanor, was in a client’s backyard in Menlo Park when he got the call to come to Jobs’ office to talk trees. He was massively impressed with the Apple CEO’s taste and knowledge. “He had a better sense than most arborists,” Muffly says. “He could tell visually which trees looked like they had good structure.” Jobs was adamant that the new campus house indigenous flora, and in particular he wanted fruit trees from the orchards he remembered from growing up in Northern California.


Apple will ultimately plant almost 9,000 trees. Muffly was told that the landscape should be futureproof and that he should choose drought-tolerant varieties so his mini forest and meadows could survive a climate crisis. (As part of its ecological efforts to prevent such a crisis, Apple claims, its buildings will run solely on sustainable energy, most of it from solar arrays on the roofs.) Jobs’ aims were not just aesthetic. He did his best thinking during walks and was especially inspired by ambling in nature, so he envisioned how Apple workers would do that too. “Can you imagine doing your work in a national park?” says Tim Cook, who succeeded Jobs as CEO in 2011. “When I really need to think about something I’m struggling with, I get out in nature. We can do that now! It won’t feel like Silicon Valley at all.”


Cook recalls the last time he discussed the campus with his boss and friend in the fall of 2011. “It was actually the last time I spoke to him, the Friday before he passed away,” Cook says. “We were watching a movie, Remember the Titans. I loved it, but I was so surprised he liked that movie. I remember talking to him about the site then. It was something that gave him energy. I was joking with him that we were all worried about some things being difficult, but we were missing the most important one, the biggest challenge of all.”


Which was?


“Deciding which employees are going to sit in the main building” and which would have to work in the outer buildings. “And he just got a big laugh out of it.”

1. Hilltop Theater


A 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater features a 20-foot tall, 165-foot-diameter glass cylinder topped with a metallic carbon-fiber roof. “It’s on a hill, at one of the highest points on this land,” Tim Cook says. “It felt like him.”


2. Parking Space


In 2012, Apple executives worried the project might exceed its budget. “It was a bit of a runaway kind of thing,” Cook says, leading to what one of the architects describes as a budgetary “diet.” One concession: Instead of 6,000 underground parking spaces and 3,000 above­ground (the former being more expensive), the ratio was flipped.


3. Shock Absorbers


To withstand earthquakes, the Ring is mounted on huge steel base isolators that ensure the building can move up to 4.5 feet in any direction without losing its vital services. “I love that the ambition was about more than just surviving,” Ive says. “The building could still function.”


4. Tiled Tunnel


A 755-foot, white-tile tunnel connects Wolfe Road to the campus and the Ring’s underground parking. Apple prototyped a corner of the tunnel before Ive’s design team signed off on its shape and tile work.


5. Wellness Facility


In addition to weights and a two-story yoga room, the 100,000-square-foot Fitness & Wellness Center offers employees access to medical and dental services. “I’m a big believer in people staying active. It’s something that makes them feel better and more energetic,” Tim Cook says. “It’s all about the fixation on the customer, and the customers here are our people, our employees.”


6. Breathing Building


To fulfill Jobs’ wish for a building that breathes, the engineering team consulted with experts who optimize airflow in Formula One race cars. The Ring inhales air through soffits (the undersides of the canopies) along its perimeter. Elsewhere, shafts that act like chimneys exhale warm air back outside.


7. Solar System


The 2.8-million-square-foot Ring will run solely on sustainable energy, most of it from the 805,000 square feet of solar arrays on the campus.


8. Giant Doors


The sliding glass doors along the exterior of the café extend the full four stories of the building. Weighing 440,000 pounds each, they open and close quietly via mechanisms hidden underground.


9. Native Landscape


Jobs did his best thinking during long walks in nature, and he envisioned a tree-filled campus where Apple workers could find inspiration in what one architect calls Jobs’ “idealized California.” Apple will plant almost 9,000 trees, all of them drought-­tolerant so that they can survive a climate crisis.


ALL THAT WAS left for Apple to do was build it.


The board approved Foster + Partners’ design in 2012. Just as Apple’s consumer products are obsessively prototyped, its new headquarters would be no different. There would be working models of various sections of the Ring scattered around the area: a mocked-up stretch of a tunnel in one of the HP buildings before it was demolished; an actual working café near Infinite Loop that served as a scaled-down replica of the Apple Park version. “We viewed the construction process as a manufacturing project and wanted to do as much outside of here as possible. Then you begin to put together Legos,” says Cook, who built his reputation as a master of supply chain efficiency.


As with the suppliers for its consumer products, Apple was demanding with its contractors, requiring them to solve problems they had never contemplated before. Such as: How does one create the largest, strongest pieces of glass in the world? Oh, and they have to be curved. “Steve loved the idea of huge pieces of glass,” Behling says. In designing its retail stores over the years, Apple has developed a relationship with a German company, Seele Group; the previous pinnacle of their collaboration was the huge glass cage on New York City’s Fifth Avenue store. The Ring makes that widely praised wonder look like a security barrier at a check-­cashing counter. Its “walls” are 45-foot-tall panels of safety glass. Seele already owned the only machine for forging such panels, but even that could bake only one panel at a time. Since the process takes 14 hours and Apple needed 800 panels, Seele’s capacity was insufficient. So Seele worked with its autoclave manufacturer to develop a much bigger cooker that could stack five panels at once. “The one we had was the biggest in the glass industry by far. This new one is just … giant,” says Nelli Diller, Seele’s managing director.


That was the easy part. Seele was also hired to produce the canopies, those fins that give the Ring its space-­age vibe. Though they’re now the building’s signature flourish, they were not something Jobs originally wanted, even though he eventually came around to them. “In Steve’s perfect world, there wouldn’t have been any canopies,” Behling says. “Yes, we can produce an all-glass building, but in this climate we have to shade it—you have to have some serious baseball-cap action.” Foster + Partners’ and Ive’s teams designed the protrusions, and Seele had to figure out how to manufacture them, with the direction that they should be as white as possible.


The glass fins that protrude from the Ring at every floor are sloped at a slight downward angle to regulate light and glare. They also prevent rain from streaking down what Ive describes as the “miles of glass” that make up the Ring’s walls.

The problem was that the canopies also had to be made of glass, and the iron in sand (which, after all, is what glass is) throws off green. “Even if you buy the best glass in the world, it still stays green,” Behling says. “It was killing everyone.”


Fortunately Ive is perhaps the world’s most avid connoisseur of whiteness since Herman Melville—remember the White Whale purity of the early iPod? His design team proposed offsetting the green tint by painting the back of the glass white, then fixing it to perforated metal sheets coated on one side with white silicone. (Behling says a tiny amount of pink was also mixed in with the white pigment.) The solution worked, and it had the added benefit of making the canopies appear to glow.


The remaining question was how rain might affect the canopies. “Imagine if you made that mistake, and so you had this building with miles of glass but it would be water-streaked because you didn’t get the design of the canopy right!” Ive says with horror. To ensure water would roll off the canopies rather than staying put (via adhesion), 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.


For Seele, the very toughest challenge came from constructing the giant glass sliding doors for the café—they had to extend from the ground to the roof, a full four stories. Each door leaf is about 85 feet by 54 feet. “The only doors I know of in the world that size are on an airplane hangar,” Diller says.


The steel that frames each leaf weighs 165 metric tons, which is about 360,000 pounds. Structural components, like rods, weigh another 18,000 pounds. Then there are 10 panels of glass, each weighing nearly 6,500 pounds. So you have two leaves, weighing 440,000 pounds apiece, that have to slide open and closed. “And it’s a restaurant, so you want to have it move without any major noise,” Diller says. The solution was to put all the machinery underground.


Though Apple’s and Foster + Partners’ teams worked through dozens of such problems over the past few years, everyone insists that the project is more or less as Jobs wanted, at more or less the original estimated cost. When it looked like the budget might get out of control in 2012, they put the project “on a diet,” Behling says, making trade-offs like giving up some underground parking spaces in favor of less-expensive above­ground garages. (Though Apple won’t officially confirm or deny the project’s reported $5 billion price tag, Cook doesn’t correct me when I cite it during our time together.) “I would say that the big picture has not changed at all,” Foster says. “If Steve could reappear, it would be as he conceived it when he last saw it as drawings. He’d find some of the details that were not addressed in his lifetime, but I believe he’d approve them.”


CEO Tim Cook stands in a finished pod.


Early sketches of the pods by Norman Foster show how the designers considered issues both large (how each pod fits into the structure of the Ring) and small (where to position the light strips).


The light fixtures look like luminous strips rather than individual LED bulbs.



Users can dial in the lights to cast their glow up or down (or both).



Jobs’ idea was to repeat the pods over and over: pod for office work, pod for teamwork, pod for socializing, like a piano roll playing a Philip Glass composition.



Designers hid two buttons (one convex, one concave) under each desk for raising and lowering it.



Apple and Foster + Partners went through dozens of door handle prototypes before landing on the final iteration: a single piece of milled aluminum that integrates into a door­frame without any visible bolts or screws.