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In 5 clicks: the mentality behind Apple's spaceship campus

In five pictures and an interview with the designer of Apple's new headquarters, we understand the reasoning behind the spaceship.
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By Charlie Osborne, Contributor on
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1 of 5 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Thousands of employees in one building

In a revealing interview with founder and chairman of Foster + Partners, Norman Foster, Architectural Record discussed the latest project, a new headquarters for Apple fondly referred to by late co-founder Steve Jobs as a "spaceship."

Slated for launch in 2016 at the earliest, Apple's new headquarters will be constructed in in Cupertino, California. Jobs originally submitted an application for the build in 2011 and the project was approved in 2013.

The architecture firm taking on the spaceship is responsible for projects of every size, including London's "Gherkin," the Swiss Re tower and the Hearst Tower, New York, as well as Terminal 3 in Beijing International Airport.

Apple's design is meant to house roughly 12,000 employees, and the headquarters will cover almost 3 million square feet of floor area and a circumference of nearly one mile, with renderings for the design include eco-friendly elements as well as jogging and bike trails -- making the use of space important. 

Images credit: Foster + Partners

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2 of 5 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Why the ring?

According to the architect, the ring evolved as the original, smaller site was abolished in favor of the new, which originally served as a base for Hewlett-Packard. 

Once the scale changed, Jobs wished to include vast, open spaces -- as they reminded him of Stanford University's campus. By building around the perimeter of a site and using segments to create an enclosure, private spaces could be inserted in to the middle, which is going to include bicycle and jogging trails as well as orchards.

However, if you want to use large amounts of land in this way, transport has to be catered for seperately. As a result, car parks have found themselves underground within the Apple headquarter renderings.

Tarmac "will be replaced with greenery."

"Remember, the main building caters to 12,000 people, but the wellness center -- the fitness center -- is probably responding to the needs of the entire Apple community in Silicon Valley, which is 20,000-something," Foster said.

"Also, another building on the site is the presentation center, which will allow Apple to do the kind of things like product launches that otherwise would require space in San Francisco or wherever. And, a bit like the airport, where you have one building -- although it is in itself quite large -- it is essentially compact."

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3 of 5 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Eco-friendly?

Expected to include four stories and cater for thousands of people, how can such a place be environmentally friendly?

One of Foster + Partners' architects on the project, Stefan Behling, says the building "is one of the most environmentally sustainable projects on this scale anywhere in the world."

The donut-shaped campus, on a 176-acre plot, will include solar-panelled windows, and Apple hopes to gather 70 percent of its required energy from solar power and natural gas, tapping in to the grid only in emergencies. For most of the year, thanks to the vast glass panels and windows, air conditioning won't be necessary, and the site also includes recycling facilities. 

In addition, the headquarters will be mainly green space, with enough room for thousands of trees (eco-friendly and a way to keep out prying eyes), orchards, and a central garden. 

Apple says that eventually the campus will be 80 percent landscape.

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4 of 5 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

How do people move around?

The difference between scale in a skyscraper and dealing with vast horizontal spaces is profound. Unless there is very careful handling of employee roles and assignments in particular parts of a building, a company must provide solutions to shift staff quickly around a campus -- or accept our legs will only move so quickly.

In Apple's respect, the ring and campus includes a restaurant for more than 2,000 people, cafes, trails and orchards. Foster says there is also enough room for 1,000 bikes to be kept on site -- but it is the scale of building segments which is important.

"Remember also that the scale is broken down by cafes and lobbies and entrances. You have four-storey-high glass walls, which can literally move sideways and just open up into the landscape. So the social facilities break down the scale."

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5 of 5 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

In summary: What goes where?

The skinny on Apple's project is: to build an impressive headquarters that melds in with the landscape and is environmentally friendly -- but at the same time, lending itself to the iPad and iPhone maker's slogan "think different."

What we know so far:

-The main Apple campus will have 360-degree curved glass walls, reaching four stories, that also integrate solar panels and are used to bring in as much natural light as possible.

-The organic nature of the site is in memory of Steve Jobs' memories of Stanford and Californian orchards. 

-Underground, there will be an auditorium for product launches and keynotes.

- The spaceship facilities include a restaurant, 300,000 square feet for research and development, a gym, gardens and orchards -- as well as jogging and biking lanes. Cafes and staff facilities will break down the scale of the headquarters.

- Over 1,000 bicycles will be kept on-site, and thousands of trees will be planted to maintain Apple's wish of an 80:20 ratio of landscape to office.

- Natural gas, solar panels and recycling facilities aim to make the building as self-sustaining as possible. 

- Cars are "banished" underground, so Apple employees will not look out the window to only see parked cars in their thousands. 

- It is expected to be completed by 2016 at the earliest. 

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