updated 01:40 pm EDT, Tue September 27, 2011
Building lacks 'connection to human size'
New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger has written a harsh critique of Apple's forthcoming "spaceship" campus, designed by Foster + Partners. The writer describes the building as a "gigantic donut," and calls it "troubling, maybe even a bit scary," in part because it lacks the functionality of the devices Apple makes. "A building is also a tool, but of a very different sort," Goldberger says. "In architecture, scale -- the size of various parts of a building in proportion to one another and to the size of human beings -- counts for a lot.
"With this building, there seems to be very little sense of any connection to human size," the critic argues. "Flexibility is a hallmark of the iPad, and it counts in architecture, too, but how much flexibility is there in a vast office governed entirely by geometry? For all of Foster's sleekness, this Apple building seems more like a twenty-first-century version of the Pentagon."
The new campus is in fact wider than the Pentagon, with a diameter of about 1,615 feet. Local residents have expressed worries about issues like traffic, schools, parking and housing, since the proposed design should hold roughly 13,000 workers in a primarily suburban neighborhood. Apple is not expected to compromise on many of its demands, since it insists that it needs the space and is already considering a third campus.
Goldberger suggests that the spaceship might signal the tipping point before a decline. "When companies plan wildly ambitious, over-the-top headquarters, it is sometimes a sign of imperial hubris. AT&T was broken up not too long after it moved into Johnson and Burgee's famously grandiose 'Chippendale skyscraper' on Madison Avenue. General Foods did not last too long after taking occupancy of the glass-and-metal palace Kevin Roche designed for it in Westchester County, and Union Carbide fell apart after it moved into another Roche building in Danbury, Connecticut. The New York Times Company's stock price plummeted after it moved into its Renzo Piano building on Eighth Avenue, and they now lease the home they built for themselves," he points out.
"Architecture isn't in itself a cause of corporate decline -- that notion is ridiculous -- but overbearing buildings can sometimes be a symptom of companies losing touch with reality, and this problem will manifest itself in other ways. It's said that Steve Jobs considers this building to be a key part of his legacy, which would be unfortunate, because it would mean that his last contribution to his company might well be his least meaningful," the article concludes.