Apple’s Spaceship

Flawless curves, milled aluminum, endless glass, walled garden, it sounds like an Apple product. I had a chance to visit Apple’s new $5 billion “spaceship” headquarter.  Visiting is a strong word. I was allowed to look at it from the across the street. The spaceship is not open to the public. It’s not open to must Apple employees. Only Apple employees that have been transferred are allowed in. I’ve been told that 200 employees a week are making the transfer. The spaceship is expected to hold ~13,000 employees.

Apple spaceship
The Apple Park seen under construction in Cupertino, California in this aerial photo taken on Jan 13, 2017. Photo: Reuters

The centerpiece of Apple Inc.’s new headquarters is a massive, ring-shaped office overflowing with panes of glass, a testament to the company’s famed design-obsessed aesthetic. Apple’s latest campus has been lauded as an architectural marvel. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk. A “statement of openness, of free movement” as Apple states it. The building, crafted by famed architect Norman Foster, immortalized a vision that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had years earlier. My Apple “guide”, a guy named Joe, told me that the building is more than 90% Steve Jobs’ vision. The concepts and design were in place way before he passed away. He hated the current headquarter (the one on Infinite Loop) but that’s all Apple could afford at the time. Today Apple’s balance sheet situation has since improved enough for them to afford a fleet of spaceships if they wanted to.

Apple spaceship AR
Me at the Apple Visitor Center checking out the maquete of the new HQ with augmented reality (AR).

The spaceship is supposed to inspire its workforce to match that effort in the products they create, that the environment itself is meant to motivate engineers, designers, and even café managers to aspire for ever-higher levels of quality and innovation. This sounds good. The question remain: Will this spaceship help Apple continue to dominate and innovate? Or is it an indulgence gone wild? Graveyards are full of companies that splurged on giant over-the-top corporate headquarter at their peak. Will Apple be an exception? They do need the space. The creation of the building                is really of reflection of who they are as a company.

Glass is a big thing at the new HQ and it’s a story on its own. Steve hated the green glass hue at their current HQ. Clear glass has a green hue to it, and the thicker the glass, the greener the glass. It’s also cheaper. The spaceship has blue glass hue. Tons of it. Even double panel in some spots.  And of course it is more expensive. Joe the guide told me that blue glass hue helps to think more clearly. That remains to be seen.

Apple spaceship glass
Blue glass hue just like Steve Jobs wanted. Credits: Me at the Apple Spaceship.

However there’s been one hiccup since it opened last year: Apple employees keep smacking into the glass. There’s a lot of glass inside. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents. Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. It’s not the first time Apple’s penchant for glass in buildings has caused problems. In late 2011, Apple was sued after a lady walked into the glass wall of an Apple store, breaking her nose. She sued the company, arguing it should have posted a warning on the glass. The suit was settled without any cost to Apple, according to a legal filing in early 2013.

I’m not sure if there’s much to take away from that visit. I’m not of an Apple fan but I respect what the company has accomplished. Steve Jobs was set on building the best office building in the world but I couldn’t go in to verify that claim.

If you want to read more about the Spaceship, check out Wired’s article.


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