Apple Campus 2 – The Size of a Town but Doesn’t Work as One

Been looking at the detailed drawing, by Fosters, for Apple Campus 2 recently published on the City of Cupertino website.

Its the size of a town. The site has a footprint larger than many. Most of the floorpspace being concentrated in a single building.

Its dysfunctional as a town, which is what something of this scale should be judged as. Over four thousand parking spaces would be several hundred metres from the main building. Once you get to the main building its several hundred metres to walk to the other side if you work there. And you can’t even walk in the desired line, you have to walk around a big circle. If you work opposite the cafeteria you lose 20 minutes of your lunch hour walking there and back, and the rest queuing.

If you drive under the main circle you might have to drive around it to the other side because of the length of walking. This will create backing up congestion – I hope they have done a microsimulation of the parking accumulation and waiting. Also the volume of pedestrians and traffic in some parts requires street widths, not corridor or parking lot widths. Again if I was the officer assessing this I would like to see some modelling, especially of the queues to the two counters of the 3,000 capacity cafeteria!

There is a good reason you don’t design towns as a single building – or even a spaceship – the principal of fractal locality. As you scale up things that should be close become far, so to retain the advantages of scale (see earlier post of why a City Scales like an Elephant) you have to introduce more and more local detail, like local shops, public spaces, gyms, meeting areas, resteraunts, cafes, bookshops.

Example of Fractal locality

Think of an airport terminal. Still designed as a building but with this kind of fractal localism, think of the number of different places you can buy a coffee before finally catching your plane. Another lesson of airports, travellators and magnetic trains, which is just what this site needs to get around.

Finally the scheme offers no visual markers to create a sense of place. Ironically the inspiration appears to be Microsoft’s Halo.

See the previous post Steve Jobs at a Planning Committee

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About andrew lainton

International Urban Planner

Posted on August 14, 2011, in architecture, urban planning and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Pleople need to walk. It’s gonna be good for them. Walking through a park to go to work is what every employee that works in a office needs. C’on, we need some exercise. Those 20min-walk to the cafeteria could be used to relax or think about a project.
    I don’t think everybody will eat at the same time. And it’s actually easier to bring supplies if you have just one cafeteria. If you take a look at the drawings, this is what the meant to do. Check the loading area.

  2. It’s Microsoft’s Halo today, but originally it was Bungie’s Halo, and before Microsoft bought the company, it was going to be a Mac+Windows game, like their Marathon series. Halo was first introduced by Steve Jobs at Macworld.

  3. Interesting thesis, but you also have to take into account what’s come before: right now in order to work at Apple you often have to travel to/from many offices spread around Cupertino.

    Apple also has shuttles that are omnipresent on Cupertino streets, so they could probably keep that going to traffic minimized in/out of the mothership and the offices that will still need to exist separately.

    If they simply have numerous cafeterias and adopt some of the best practices of Google (onsite subsidized services like laundry, etc) most workers would check in once during the day, maybe take a shuttle outside for lunch or visiting other offices, and do the remainder of work within the building.

    I’m more worried about it having enough lighting… I hear the Pentagon is kind of dark and dreary.

  4. Most facilities like this do place amenities where workers actually are (ATM, vending machines, dry cleaning, etc). Having a large cafeteria will at least allow it to be open, staffed more efficiently and provide a wider range of choices than many small cafeterias. I work in a facility now where every building does have a cafeteria – it, frankly, sucks.

    And spending 20 minutes walking to a cafeteria is a lot less than most places I’ve worked. Especially considering having to jump in a car and drive some place. And most employees of a company like Apple don’t punch a clock.

    And how did you arrive at the comment that there are no “visual markers”? I’m sure the interior will contain plenty of them.

    • So do large malls in triangle and circle formations and its easy to get lost in them without markers to the outside world

      Comparsing to sprawl slumurban business parks is not a good marker.

      Imagine a town of 10,000 people with one place to eat

  5. Bad article. They might have some type of inside transportation from segways to golf carts to whatever, plans don’t show this. I also don’t believe there is only one cafeteria… halo was Mac originally so your last line sounds like MS fanboyism or to get a bothersome reaction to your post.

    It seems to me you have never gone to big facilities or building to know that there is more than one way besides walking to get ton your destination.

  6. You don’t have to walk around a big circle, you can walk pretty close to a straight line through the park in the middle. The worst-case distance from the inside door to the cafeteria is only about twice what it is at the existing campus at One Infinite Loop and is undoubtedly a lot better than the equivalent distance when working at one of Apple’s satellite offices that don’t even *have* an on-site cafeteria.

    Worst case, they’ll make a smaller satellite cafeteria on the opposite side.

    The parking thing is more of a problem. It’s great for the employees who park in the two floors under the main circle and take the elevator straight up to their office, but it’s not great for those who park in the big structure near the freeway. Lovely walk, but a big time sink. Seems like it’d work best to have s some sort of shuttle option circling the building and going to/from the lot.

    • There is a reason we have buildings – in case it rains or is 100 degrees, to force people to walk across the central quad is bad design, what is more the desire lines would all converge at one end, this would either upset the symmetry or create huge congestion at the centre of the circle as 6,000 people every day bump into each other/

      • You seem to be forgetting that this is in Cupertino. The weather is mild there year-round. No snow, very little rain, you can wear the same clothes every season, most houses don’t even bother to have air conditioning. During the one week a year that it rains, we can probably put up with a little inconvenience of having to walk around. The same design wouldn’t work in other climates, but that’s rather the point.

        Comparing it to an open college campus like Berkeley (which doesn’t even have covered walkways) this seems more convenient. Also comparing to Stanford or to the typical industrial park in terms of the distance one needs to walk to the cafeteria or from parking to where you work.

        (At Infinite Loop the buildings are separate so you don’t even have the *option* of walking from R&D5 to R&D4 (where the cafeteria is) while staying in an air-conditioned environment the whole way – you have to go outside.)

        This design also lets individual departments grow or shrink to remain contiguous rather than having to be split arbitrarily between buildings. That seems like a pretty big win…

  7. The fact that it works just bas badly as sprawling car orientated industrial parks and is just as much of a trudge as vast campuses seems no argument to me.

    Relying on current climate show no resiliance to climate change, a building built to last 200 years should be able to cope with harsher weather.

    The design offers no flexibility to expand departments if there is near full occupancy, if one persons moves 1 metre to the right everyone to their right for one mile has to move at the same time.

    • No, the resizing algorithm works like memory compaction.

      Consider: somewhere in the circle some project is cancelled or completes/ships so you no longer need the contiguous 30-person test group devoted to it. That group shuts down and disperses, freeing up a small block of space. The block they leave can now be expanded into from the right, from the left, from above or from below – whichever adjacent group most needs to grow can grow into this space *while remaining contiguous*. The growing group gets bigger at its borders, displacing adjacent groups that are shrinking. Even at near full occupancy, this works. So not only can your one big circle be *initially* partitioned into a series of virtual buildings that are each *just the right size* for the departments therein, but these buildings can adjust in size as the departments do!

      The design also has the advantage of creating an easily defensible perimeter – an important consideration for a security-obsessed company. And having that perimeter surround some open space is nice, especially when you want to have big outdoor release announcement parties. (which Apple enjoys doing).

      So maybe it fails when judged as a town but it seems like it succeeds when judged as an industrial R&D campus. What’s your alternative design? What would you have done differently?

      • The security cordon is the fence line not the circle. It laid out as gardens.

        As an essentially one dimensional form a loop has several less degrees of freedom when growing – your concept only works when the building is half empty. It also works better when groups shrink rather than grow. They need a big building because they are growing. In a rapidly growing company all sections are likely to grow so your idea suffers from a fallacy of composition.

        I think any designer not given a preset design on a back of a sheet of paper drawn by steve jobs would have come up with a more modular design – the architects dared not argue and point out the obvious flaws even though they would have cursed them. Its the same as designing a 50 inch apple tv with the multitouch of an iphone. Some ideas don’t scale.

        I would have designed it as a series of pavillions, each with local facilities, but with shared facilities right at the centre to minimise walking distances. A voronoi type structure to maximise network connections and interaction – mathematically the most efficient way of covering space. I would have had no on site parking bit a series of park and ride facilities at various locations in the bay area. The entrance roads are unlikely to be able to take the traffic strain – this will be the largest car park for a single building in the world, by far, accessed off a short road – which will cause vehicles backing up onto the freeway. I would have designed structures which could maximise solar and passive solar gain/avoidance of overheating. This requires a non-circular shape as solar gain will be radically different on the north and south faces. I would have created an internal transport system modelled after that being built at Tainjen Eco City.

        I could go on for the next 6 hours but this is all first semester undergrad stuff for any urban designer, planner or architect.

  8. I’m dubious on the assumptions here, I think the intent of the architect is for one to walk across the central court, if one is going to lunch, that means maybe a 3.78 minute walk across the court yard adding in about a half a minute walk from your desk to the near court yard entrance thats maybe 4.25-4.5 minute walk total.

    I think its a safe assumption that people will use the courtyard, as Cupertino, rarely has weather bad enough to make that route too undesirable, though if I were an Apple employee I would keep an umbrella at my desk.

    • As the cafeteria would not be at the centre but at the edge it creates real problems of pedestrian congestion and flow of possibly up to 5,000 every lunch all converging at one central point and then going down on path- poor design.

      Also problems of environmental control with people coming into and out of the building uncessarily.

  9. I agree with your assessment. This building looks amazing but you have to wonder how people will adapt. It will be easier to have a teleconference than to have to walk to other side of the wheel for a meeting.

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