Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple's Alien Ambition

Apple's new proposed HQ has been drawing some buzz; even though the plans are shrouded in secrecy, stuff has leaked out...
Foster has proposed a gargantuan glass-and-metal ring, four stories high, with a hole in the middle a third of a mile wide. The building, which will house upwards of twelve thousand employees, will have a circumference of a mile, and will be so huge that you won’t really be able to perceive its shape, except from the air. Like everything Foster does, it will be sleek and impeccably detailed, but who wants to work in a gigantic donut? Steve Jobs, speaking to the Cupertino City Council, likened the building to a spaceship. But buildings aren’t spaceships, any more than they are iPhones.

So why is Foster’s design troubling, maybe even a bit scary? The genius of the iPhone, MacBook, iPad, and other Apple products is that they are tools that function well and happen to be breathtakingly beautiful. (Last year, I wrote about the design for the new Apple store on the Upper West Side.) A building is also a tool, but of a very different sort. In architecture, scale—the size of various parts of a building in proportion to one another and to the size of human beings—counts for a lot. With this building, there seems to be very little sense of any connection to human size. Flexibility is a hallmark of the iPad, and it counts in architecture, too, but how much flexibility is there in a vast office governed entirely by geometry? For all of Foster’s sleekness, this Apple building seems more like a twenty-first-century version of the Pentagon.
The Blog's Chief Architecture Correspondent, the Lord of Truth (and if you didn't know he was our Chief Architecture Correspondent, you are only about 24 hours behind him in learning this), had some thoughts...
Wow that’s a bold design if it’s actually true.  A lot of the comments I was thinking as I read were voiced by the author of the piece, so I guess I’m either not as snarky as I used to be or this is just really obvious.

I do think it’s pretty inefficient to make people move a half a mile in linear distance to reach the other side of the building.  I’m sure there will be some cool monorail or employees will be issued Segways or something, but that just seems kind of silly.  Elevators are efficient because they don’t take up much horizontal space, but a horizontal version would eat up a lot of that circumference.

I also find it ironic that Apple designs boxy computers and has really boxy stores, but seems to be opting for a building with no corners.  And I thought space ship too – but specifically the space ships from the original “V” series:

Perhaps Steve Jobs and other Apple execs eat mice for food and want to enslave us all.  Oh, but they already have. 
The most frightening thing?  I'm not sure if I'm opposed to Apple enslavement.

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