As one of the world’s most valuable companies, what would you do when it is time to build yourself a new head office? Would you build a flying saucer?

Would you choose to make the building as environmentally friendly and energy-efficient as possible? Would you engage the world’s best architects, engineers, environmental experts and even interior designers?

Or would you prefer to be a show-off and create the world’s tallest structure, like the United Arab Emirates did with its Burj Khalifa building?

Steve Jobs – Apple’s founder who died in 2012, leaving a lasting legacy to the world of computers – didn’t want to show off at all. He wanted a building that would house most of Apple’s employees on a 71-hectare site that was surrounded by natural, indigenous flora, had minimal above-ground parking, was energy-neutral and provided an environment to stimulate creativity and innovation.

World-renowned Foster + Partners were commissioned to design the new headquarters, which are being like the wheel that was first used on the iPod when Apple released it in 2001, changing the face of the music industry forever.

For many people, Apple Campus 2 (which surely deserves to be named the Steve Jobs Campus) is not poetic, legendary or striking. Instead it’s an excellent blend of function and form that will restore much of the natural environment to a site that is already overcrowded with buildings.

During a presentation to the Cupertino town council in 2011, a rather frail, thin and declining Steve Jobs told how, as a youngster of 13, he phoned Bill Hewlett (owner of Hewlett Packard), having found his number in the Cupertino telephone directory, and asked Hewlett if he could please have some parts for a frequency meter he wanted to build.

Hewlett was more than happy to give Jobs the parts he needed, but better still (as Jobs recalls), Hewlett immediately offered him a job for the summer. Jobs accepted and spent that summer working in Hewlett Packard’s own frequency meter division. Years and lifetimes later, the 71-hectare site where Apple Campus 2 will be built is the old Hewlett Packard site that Apple managed to buy because as Jobs said: “Things haven’t been going quite so well for Hewlett Packard these days . . .”

Plans for Apple Campus 2

On site are 22 existing Hewlett Packard buildings with about as many above-ground asphalt parking lots, alongside congested entry and exit points that add to the already overcrowded Cupertino streets.

That is all now set to change because the existing buildings will be demolished to make way for Apple’s flying saucer that will house up to 14 000 people, provide parking for 10 980 cars in a single four-storey parking garage and executive parking for another 2 700 more cars under the main building on the campus.

Here is what the new campus comprises:
•    The four-storey main building above ground along with a 1 000-seat auditorium nearby.
•    A fitness centre along with restaurants and coffee shops.
•    A research and development facility.
•    An energy generation plant storing power from solar photovoltaic arrays harvested from Cupertino’s sunshine.
 
On site at the moment just 20% of the 60 hectares is devoted to the natural environment, whereas once Apple’s new headquarters are completed, that figure will rise to 80%.

In the process, the office space will increase from the existing 241 548m2 in 22 buildings to 288 000m2 in Apple’s building (an increase of about 20%). Yet the whole site will look more like natural and indigenous parkland than the headquarters of one of the world’s most iconic brands.

Currently Apple employs 9 500 people, housed at the existing Infinite Loop Campus and a string of other buildings around town.

Bigger and definitely better

The staff quota at the new Apple campus will increase by 40% to allow for 14 000 people who will be needed in the years ahead. The landscaping and natural parkland will rise from about 158 000m2 to 548 128m2 (up 350%), while the number of trees will increase from the existing 3 700 to about 6 000 (up by 60%), and the surface parking will be reduced by 90% from 9 800 asphalt open-air parking bays to just 1 200 spots above ground predominantly near the auditorium.

The footprint of the new buildings is 30% less than these currently there, falling from 130 064m2 to just over 92 900m2.

The cafes are large enough to have 3 000 people at a single sitting for breakfast, lunch and supper. And there are four sittings per meal to ensure that everyone at Apple is fed.

If you look a little more closely at the development, there are some wonderful levels of attention to detail, such as:
•    Apple is re-modelling and redesigning the intersections around the campus to improve the traffic flow off the nearby Interstate freeway. Alongside the main roads, new bicycle lanes (with fast, medium and slow lanes) are being built along with a spacious pedestrian walkway on one side of the road for those who prefer to keep fit by walking or jogging.
•    Apple is closing off a part of Pruneridge Drive – that runs directly through the site – and remodelling the traffic flow to allow the residents of Cupertino who use that road to have an easy commuting trip from their residential suburbs on any given day.
•    Apple is providing its own fleet of buses to get people from designated spots around the city into the campus, so the amount of traffic on the roads is reduced along with the carbon gas emissions from the thousands of exhaust pipes that ferry people to work.
•    Apple is harvesting its own rainwater to keep the meadowed parklands, woodlands and savannahs watered and thriving. The chosen landscape design is reminiscent of the natural Santa Clara Valley. Natural drainage has been designed in such a way to improve the water quality flowing into the nearby Calabaza’s Creek.
•    Apple is putting in a new sewerage pipeline, improving and increasing the size of the existing stormwater drains, installing new underground electricity conduits to feed power to the grid or draw power from it. Apple’s thinking is that its own energy plant will be the primary source of electricity while the grid is there for back-up when needed. It’s also building its own gas pipeline to provide natural gas from Pacific Gas and Electricity for kitchens and the central heating plants.

Heritage and the environment

Ask a random group of people in Cupertino to tell about Glendenning Barn or the historical value of apricots to the area, and you might find that most of them just give you a vacant stare. However, in his presentation to Cupertino’s council, Jobs recalled how he remembered the apricot orchard as a young boy.

The Glendenning Barn was used by HP to host barbecues on some festive days, but it had been moved from its original site to where it now stands. However, it’s right in the middle of Apple’s new buildings, so Apple will move it all over again.

It’s not uncommon to move buildings around a site in America, so Glendenning Barn will be painstakingly relocated to another position.

It was just two years ago, in 2011, that Steve Jobs outlined Apple’s plans to the Cupertino council and asked them to consider and approve the plan that would certainly change a part of the city.
 
In that time, the environmental impact report (a tome of about 700 pages) has been completed and signed off; all the public comments have been recorded and archived; all the plans were drawn, submitted and approved (and there are many), from the detailed floor-by-floor designs to the landscaping, the roads, walkways and bicycle lanes.

A far cry from circumstances in South Africa, where it takes an average of six years to get from concept to approval for a new project, whether that approval is for a two-storey building in Newlands or an unsightly oblong in Sandton.

When it comes to Apple Campus 2, is there anything that makes the building or Apple’s plans stand out? Not really. After all, having energy-neutral headquarters that preserve the environment is not new or different.

Protecting the environment or moulding and remodelling it to suit the surroundings? Well, that’s not ground-breaking either. Just look at what Dubai has achieved by transforming its desert into a tropical paradise with a Grand Prix circuit, a string of golf courses, an array of luxury hotels and a business environment that is as vibrant as the world’s most established and iconic financial capitals.

Apple Campus 2 represents a small (by world standards anyway) monument to a company that has transformed much of the computer world primarily through its founder, Steve Jobs, working alongside the many thousands of other people who have contributed to the company’s success.

And the value of the new campus is that it will stand on a hill in Cupertino, just a short distance away from the garage where Jobs and his friend, Steve Wozniak, built the legendary Apple II computer in 1976 – a computer that is today credited with being the computer that started the home computer market.

Is there anything that is truly phenomenal about Apple Campus 2? Not from the floor plans or infrastructure. It’s a nice, practical building with a circular design in a landscaped environment that is pleasant and comfortable.

Is it the kind of building that one associates with Apple’s legendary and innovative designs in a world of technology marvels?

No, it’s not.

It’s just a nice, comfortable building where Apple’s people can work as they keep designing and building computers, devices and technologies that change the world.

After all, Apple is a technology company, not an architectural practice.

The information on which this article is based comes from a number of public domain sources, but particular thanks and appreciation are given to the City of Cupertino, where all the information is held on public record. The primary sources of information are www.cupertino.org, http://goldenpacificofficecenter.com, www.archdaily.com and www.treehugger.com.