Our Buildings, Ourselves: The Difference Between Apple and Google, Represented by Their Headquarters

google vs apple
©. Foster and partners/ NBBJ

© Foster and partners/ NBBJ

Editor in Chief Meg O'Neill used to say that one shouldn't try to put too many concepts into one post, so when I covered Google's London headquarters recently, I concentrated on the Marissa Mayer/ Yahoo! connection and only alluded to Apple with a reference to Norman Foster. But there is an interesting comparison to be made between the designs of the new Apple HQ and that of Google's.

Albert Camus wrote: “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door.” Yet both of these companies are essentially building suburban office parks the size of small towns, while failing to learn the lessons of urban design, like building streets. And corners.

Apple distant

© Apple/ Foster + Partners

You don't see a lot of people in the renderings for the Apple headquarters, designed by Norman Foster. I previously described it as anti-urban, anti-social, anti-environmental. It turned its back on the city and was a space-ship landed in a private, fenced and secure park. But it was a beautiful object.

google roof

© NBBJ Architects

The renderings of the google headquarters are full of people. They are on rooftop patios, in gardens and courtyards, they are all over the place. It's not about the image and the architecture, it is about "casual collisions." But it is an algorithm, not a recognizable urban form.

google roof


Google has people camping in tents on the roof. At apple, you would be stripped of your mock turtle neck if you tried that.


© Foster and Partners via City of Cupertino

I have suggested that Apple headquarters " fit with Apple's culture of secrecy, of designing closed systems, of making perfect objects unlike any in the world, all sealed up tight and inaccessible to anyone but Apple." I agree with Alexandra Lange who called it a throwback to "an inward-looking, hermetic, heterotopic corporate world." On the other hand, it is a singularly beautiful object.

google headquarters

© NBBJ architects

As a building, the Google headquarters are a hodge-podge. If one is creating a place where interactions are supposed to happen, why not build it like a town or city with a comprehensible grid, instead of a bunch of bent buildings? It's not quite as anti-urban as Apple but is a different form of suburban office park.

Apple is all about design; Google is all about data. Neither of them seem to get urbanity.

I think I hate them both.

See the Google headquarters in great detail at Quartz, , and a similar discussion about Apple's monolithic beauty vs Google's chaos.

Where would you rather work?