Norman Foster explains Apple Headquarters, sort of

park view
© Apple

One can be a fan of Apple and an admirer of Lord Foster, the designer of Apple's new Cupertino headquarters, and still believe that this building is a huge mistake in so many ways. I have called it anti-urban, anti-social, anti-environmental and probably anti-Apple. Now Norman Foster does an interview with Cathleen McGuigan of Architectural Record and it is just appalling how far he has to reach to justify this thing.

Stanford UniversityWP/ Stanford University/CC BY 2.0

The reference point for Steve [Jobs] was always the large space on the Stanford campus—the Main Quad—which Steve knew intimately. Also, he would reminisce about the time when he was young, and California was still the fruit bowl of the United States. It was still orchards.

Stanford UniversityStanford University/CC BY 2.0

And indeed, Stanford does have a big quad, but the bulk of the public space that is actually used is between the buildings of the campus. Those buildings look almost Oxonian, with covered walkways, small squares, spaces of different sizes and characters, lots of shade.

Bedford SquareBedford Square/ Google maps/Screen capture

We did a continuous series of base planning studies. One idea which came out of it is that you can get high density by building around the perimeter of a site, as in the squares of London. And in the case of a London square, you create a mini-park in the center. So a series of organic segments in the early studies started to form enclosures, all of which were in turn related to the scale of the Stanford campus.

Yes, but those squares have a human scale to them, with the emphasis on the mini.

OxfordOxford University/Public Domain

There is a reason that office developments are often called campuses. Most are modelled on Oxford University or Cambridge, where you get interconnected buildings with protected walkways, wonderful interior spaces and lots of variety. You also get a lot more perimeter per unit area so more people get access to windows. You get a multiplicity of routes, lots of choices of where to go and how to get there. You get variety.

Landscape Plan© Apple/ Foster + Partners

These studies finally morphed into a circular building that would enclose the private space in the middle—essentially a park that would replicate the original California landscape, and parts of it would also recapture the orchards of the past.

runner© Foster and Partners via City of Cupertino

Foster justifies putting everyone into one building like this.

If you take the 176-acre site, it is much closer to move around or across a space in one very large building than it would be to walk to the other end of a 170-plus-acre site to another building. Although in the extreme cases the distances might be large, they are not really when compared with a conventional campus, where you're walking from one building to another.

Architecture used to be more complex than just a big idea of a big ring. People used to think about interactions, about flexibility, about expansion. In the sixties, Candilis Josic Woods worked on Berlin Free University, using Alison Smithson's principles of Mat-building into their campus, as described in the Architectural Review:

...they prioritise correspondences between departments rather than the traditional separation into independent faculties. This fosters informal pedagogy based on the spontaneous encounters between students, teachers and researchers in the wide corridors. It also caters for increasing numbers of students and changes in curricula which require flexible structures that can be enlarged. And, finally, it encourages the free-flowing exchange of knowledge in keeping with the mat-building’s inherent lack of hierarchy.

Foster knows all this, he did it in Masdar. He tries to say that it is happening at Apple as well:

cafeteria© apple

Remember also that the scale is broken down by cafés and lobbies and entrances. Then, a significant segment of that circle is the restaurant, which opens up to the landscape. You have four-story-high glass walls, which can literally move sideways and just open up into the landscape. So the social facilities break down the scale.

I am not convinced. I am not certain that Norman Foster is convinced. It all sounds like justification for a big idea that makes little sense.

Norman Foster explains Apple Headquarters, sort of
Is this an explanation or some kind of justification?

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