Apple's Mothership, Spaceship and Home Away from Home Gets Final Cupertino Approval

By Tony Rizzo December 04, 2013

Finally, Apple’s proposed project for its new and exotic campus to be built in Cupertino, Calif., has finally received the final stamp of approval from the Cupertino City Council. The news was reported a few weeks ago by the San Jose Mercury News, but we didn’t find the news itself all that interesting. We thought the approval was a foregone conclusion – even as Apple’s management sought to take some of the more hedonistic touches and cost overruns or likely cost overruns out of it – or for Apple, truly, simply attempting to make it less costly.

We mean, really, it wasn’t going to be approved? As much as it may have taken two years to get the approval in writing, once the city completed its environmental impact report – two years after Steve Jobs himself announced it – it wasn’t not going to be built. Activist shareholders had more to say about the costs of the entire complex than Cupertino or Apple itself ever would.

That the new campus is nothing short of hedonistically expensive is Steve Jobs legacy. Thanks to Jobs and his endless and fanatical quest for a certain design perfection – which in this case includes massive and truly massively curved glass walls requiring the fine precision of a fine mechanical watch and the skills of a fine mechanical watchmaker to assemble – it is simply going to be amazingly expensive to build. There are no cost overruns – it is what it costs. We ourselves, truthfully, don’t believe there is anything hedonistic about the building. It is the ultimate cost that is hedonistic from a certain philosophical perspective, but then that same perspective would claim that the iPhone 5s is hedonistic. But enough noise about costs. Let’s focus instead on what the building is all about.

Where to begin? By now what the entire structure and campus will look like is pretty well established. The Web is awash in endless images and building and landscape design renderings. We all know why the structure is now nick-named the spaceship and mothership – due of course to its primarily circular (if perhaps slightly oval) shape that does indeed look like a 1950s spaceship. The image below is the one that probably best captures it.

We are of course all quite familiar with another famously enormous structure that could pass for a spaceship – the Pentagon. We don’t however believe that Jobs drew any inspiration from it.

Celebrity architect Norman Foster of Foster and Partners is the mind behind the entire thing – or at least the mind behind turning Jobs visions into reality. Foster’s firm’s work includes the likes of the bullet-shaped Gherkin in London and the Reichstag in Berlin. The new headquarters will sit on 176 acres and will include the 2.8 million square foot, glass-encased main building (yes, the one shown above), along with a 120,000 square foot underground auditorium. It sounds completely appropriate for gathering the media for new product announcements.

We can’t wait! Though we will need to wait until probably the end of 2016 before Apple will be able to complete the main pieces of it.

There will be as well an underground parking lot that will hold 2,400 vehicles (which hardly sounds like enough parking to us) and the obligatory 100,000 square foot fitness center and glass-encased and apparently seemingly endless cafeteria that will bridge both indoor and outdoor pavilions – all the better to take advantage of the man-made forest the entire 176 acres will be compromised of. Apple’s plans also call for an additional 600,000 square feet of office and R&D space to be built once the main structures are done.

Approximately 13,000 engineers and designers are expected to hang out within the mothership. Four stories tall and build under one continuous curving roof, the spaceship is definitely the main attraction. Those who are lucky will gain entrance and access to the underground garage – which will be reached by way of an underground road – perhaps designed as a time tunnel (why not?). Those less lucky will have to settle for an above ground (albeit nicely designed) garage of the more ordinary kind. And for those who take Apple shuttle busses there will be a snazzy new Corporate Transit Center. We should add that there will likely be some special touches here – think of white staircases that may or may not remind you of Apple stores.

Requisite Green Design

Foster makes heady claims for his design as far as environmental sustainability is concerned – and this was certainly a key to the final signoff from Cupertino. Foster goes all in by claiming – or proclaiming – that the Apple project is designed on a grand scale to be among – if not indeed the absolute greatest – environmentally sustainable projects of its size anywhere in the world. It is no surprise that Apple also added some "political eye candy" on this front when it hired former EPA head Lisa Jackson to oversee the environmental efforts for Apple.

The architect makes it clear that the plan moving forward is for the entire complex to run entirely on renewable energy. On-site fuel cell plants, rooftop photovoltaic arrays, natural ventilation and radiant cooling are all part of the equation. It is expected that the complex actually will not need any air conditioning for a substantial part of every year – as much as 70 percent according to Foster's estimates.

Finally, we'll add that the landscaping itself is literally built out with a detailed plan that marks every tree, bush and shrub that will find its way onto the site. It will, of course, include a substantial apple orchard – of course!

We'll leave it at that. It will be worth exploring again once we begin to see how the massive curved glass structures will come together. The typical spacing between glass sheets is an industry average 1/8 of an inch but Jobs demanded that those gaps be reduced to no more than 1/32 of an inch. This is pushing build tolerances to the very limits – in fact, it may prove impossible to execute once real world build issues emerge. We'll see – we anticipate this will be the one area of the overall design where we may end up seeing a TV show spawn from it!

Finally, we did not include any additional photos here. The Mercury News has done a great job of it already and we recommend scoping them out there.

Edited by Alisen Downey

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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