A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 3, 2017

How Jony Ive Conceived Apple's New Headquarters

Apple didnt plan for its growth and before the new HQ was built had employees scattered over 100 sites.

The building is less an architectural statement than a reflection of the reality that the innovation required for continued success comes from collaboration. JL

Christina Passariello reports in the Wall Street Journal:

The scattering of thousands of Apple employees across more than 100 sites in Silicon Valley rendered more difficult the collaboration necessary for innovation. “We didn’t plan our growth, and we were so engrossed in trying to push things forward we didn’t spend time to develop the workplace.” Ive had an “obsession with the idea that it was built like a product, not like a piece of architecture.” “One of the advantages of this ring is the repetition of segments.We could put enormous care and attention to detail into what is essentially a slice that is then repeated."
ON A SUNNY DAY in May, Jonathan Ive —Jony to anyone who knows him—first encounters a completed section of Apple Park, the giant campus in Cupertino, California, that has turned into one of his longest projects as Apple’s chief designer. A section of workspace in the circular, Norman Foster–designed building is finally move-in-ready: sliding-glass doors on the soundproof offices, a giant European white oak collaboration table, adjustable-height desks, and floors with aluminum-covered hinged panels, hiding cables and wires, and brushed-steel grating for air diffusion.
Ive’s characteristically understated reaction—“It’s nice, though, isn’t it?”—masks the anxiety he feels each time a product he’s designed is about to be introduced to the world. “There’s the same rather strange process you go through when you finish a product and you prepare to release it—it’s the same set of feelings,” says Ive, who turned 50 in February. “That feels, I don’t know, encouragingly healthy, because I would be concerned if we lost that sense of anxiety. I think that would suggest that we were not as self-critical, not as curious, not as inquisitive as we have to be to be able to be effective and do good work.”
Apple Park is unlike any other product Ive has worked on. There will be only one campus—in contrast to the ubiquity of Apple’s phones and computers—and it doesn’t fit in a pocket or a hand. Yet Ive applied the same design process he brings to technological devices: prototyping to minimize any issues with the end result and to narrow what he calls the delta between the vision and the reality of a project. Apple Park is also the last major project Ive worked on with Steve Jobs, making it more personal for the man Jobs once called his “spiritual partner.”
“After Steve died, he was the one who carried it forward with the same intent,” says Laurene Powell Jobs, who was married to Jobs for 20 years until his death in 2011. Ive describes small elements of the new headquarters of the world’s most valuable company—with a market cap of $750 billion and a $257 billion cash stockpile—that connect directly to Jobs’s past, such as cherry and apricot trees, recalling the orchards of Jobs’s youth in Silicon Valley. At the same time, he promises it will be the birthplace of new toys and tools the rest of us haven’t imagined yet. Ive and Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, talk about the campus as something for the next generation of Apple employees—like parents doing estate planning.
With Apple Park, Ive is ensconced as master of the house, which means he has also inherited the burden of proving that Apple’s best days aren’t behind it. Apple hasn’t had a breakthrough product since Jobs died. The iPhone’s sales growth has stalled, and expectations are high that a 10th-anniversary phone will arrive later this year and will be markedly more advanced than previous versions. In other technologies, from digital assistants to driverless vehicles to augmented and virtual reality, Apple seems to lag other tech giants, including Google, Amazon and Tesla. Its new voice-activated speaker, HomePod, unveiled in June, will arrive on the market in December, three years after Amazon’s Echo.
The scattering of thousands of Apple employees across more than 100 sites in Silicon Valley has rendered more difficult the collaboration necessary for innovation. “We didn’t plan our growth, and then when we saw our growth, we were so engrossed in trying to push things forward that we didn’t spend time to really develop the workplace,” says Cook. “We’ve done a really good job of working around it, but it’s not the way we want to be working, nor does it represent our culture well.”
Like other Ive designs, Apple Park seems poised to become an icon. In an acknowledgement that the campus will attract interest beyond its employees, there will be a visitor center and a store selling items unique to Apple Park. Drones manned by aficionados have documented from the air the emergence of the futuristic ring-shaped building and the Steve Jobs Theater, a glass-walled auditorium that seats 1,000.
Ive likes to emphasize how the perception of the 2.8-million- square-foot ring is less imposing and powerful from the ground. As one looks out from inside the ring to the west, the opposite side of the building seems to set the stage for the Santa Cruz Mountains beyond. “When you’re in the parkland,” he says, referring to the 30-acre landscaped area that will form the center of the ring, “it’s not dominated by built structure at all.”
Jony works tirelessly at the detail, evolving, improving, refining. For me, that makes him a poet.
—Norman Foster
Carrying Apple forward has weighed on Ive’s shoulders. After Jobs’s death, Ive’s role was broadened to oversee all hardware and user experience—all the essential ways people interact with Apple devices—but the increased workload led to exhaustion, colleagues say. Two years ago, he shed some managerial responsibilities when his title changed from senior vice president of design to chief design officer.
Ive joined Apple half a lifetime ago, in his mid-20s, when the company was at the brink of death. One of his early designs, the candy-colored iMac, was rejected by executives. Ive stashed it away until Jobs returned to the company in 1997, after a 12-year hiatus; it became an instant point of connection between the two men and was put into production soon thereafter. Ive is now revered in the design world and the technology industry for having made every Apple product since—iPod, iPhone, iPad and on and on. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, and in July became chancellor of the Royal College of Art in London.
Ive’s friend Bono, writing in an email, says he’s “restless and relentless in pursuit of perfection,” while Norman Foster, whose architecture firm was hired by Apple to build the headquarters at a reported cost of $5 billion, calls him “a poet.” Other designers are “amazing essayists, but the difference between an essay and a poem is that you really have to work harder at the poem. It’s much more distilled, it’s much more the essence,” Foster says. “He works tirelessly at the detail, evolving, improving, refining. For me, that makes him a poet.”
BUT IVE, as a boy growing up in London, struggled with words, so his father encouraged him to express himself through drawings. He learned to manipulate material objects at a young age from his grandfather and his father, who taught silversmithing.
During Ive’s first permanent job after college, with a London design firm called Tangerine, he developed a laptop for one of the firm’s clients: Apple. After the client poached him in 1992, Ive quickly became involved in everything from product design to manufacturing, visiting the company’s factories in Japan.
Ive’s personal style telegraphs humility. During our tour of Apple Park, he wears white canvas pants and tan Clarks Wallabees with a blue T-shirt, an outfit he appears in so frequently that it could be called his signature look. But unlike Jobs’s black turtlenecks, his attire is more a uniform than a fashion statement. (Ive’s suits are custom-made by a tailor in the north of England, Thomas Mahon, but he rarely dresses up.) There are unexpected splashes of color for a man who helped make white and brushed silver a new standard among handheld devices: orange socks and a red iPhone 7, the special edition Ive created for Bono’s AIDS charity. His Apple Watch flashes his pulse: 88 beats per minute.
Ive is tuned into the look and feel of things wherever he goes. “Oh, I’ve got the Faber-Castell pen,” he interjects, as I use one to take notes. He is also precise—mixing unsweetened cranberry juice with tonic water just so, to get the right amount of acidity—and intense, chasing his drink with two double espressos.
When J.J. Abrams was working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ive mentioned that he “would love to see a lightsaber that is rougher, spitting sparks,” Abrams says. The director, who says he and Ive were already fans of each other’s work when they met at a dinner four years ago, applied Ive’s suggestion to character Kylo Ren’s weapon. “His lightsaber was as imperfect and unpredictable as the character,” says Abrams. (The inspiration is mutual: Ive told Abrams that he had the look of the original Stormtroopers in mind when he designed Apple’s earbuds.)
For much of the past decade, a plot of land in Northern California’s suburban sprawl has been the focus of Ive’s imagination. Walking in London’s Hyde Park in 2004, Jobs fantasized with Ive about building a campus centered around a quad, like Stanford University, with plenty of parkland for meandering and meeting, Ive says. At the time, the first iPhone was in the works, and Apple’s revival, thanks to the iPod and iMac, meant the company had outgrown its digs in Cupertino, California, capable of housing 3,000 people in the six buildings that make up Infinite Loop. Apple slowly began plotting for a new space, buying 175 acres of a former Hewlett-Packard site that Ive described as “acres of parking,” one freeway exit south of Apple’s existing headquarters.
In the early days of planning, Ive and Jobs shared “drawings, books, and created expressions of feelings,” says Powell Jobs, who often witnessed the longtime partners collaborating. Some principles were a given, such as the belief that natural light and fresh air make workers happier and more productive. The prototyping prerequisite made for a logical match with Foster + Partners, which also practices modeling and prototyping. Norman Foster visited Ive in his top-secret design studio during one of their early meetings. It emerged that the two design gurus have other interests in common, including a love of the work of English painter Bridget Riley, whose graphic black-and-white art plays tricks on the mind.
From the beginning, Ive had an “absolute obsession with the idea that it was built like a product, not like a piece of architecture,” says industrial designer Marc Newson, one of Ive’s oldest friends, who has contributed to Apple designs in recent years.
Ive takes a subtly British dig at other tech campuses sprouting across Silicon Valley. “A lot of the buildings that are being built at the moment are products of software-only cultures,” says Ive. “Because we understand making, we’ll build [a prototype] and try it and use it, and see what works and what doesn’t.” Facebook commissioned Frank Gehry to make its headquarters, with unfinished plywood walls and cables and cords that dangle from the ceiling. Bjarke Ingels’s and Thomas Heatherwick’s plan for Google’s new campus calls for a giant metal roof canopy.
Ive was used to taking on projects in new domains—such as music players and smartphones—so designing a campus didn’t feel like a leap. In fact, Ive thinks the line separating product design from architecture shouldn’t be so rigid. Architecture is “a sort of product design; you can talk about it in terms of scale and function and materials, material types,” he says. “I think the delineation is a much, much softer set of boundaries that mark our expertise.”
Ive puts aesthetics on the same footing as technology in his designs, says Nicholas Serota, who recently stepped down as director of the Tate. “By example, he has managed to persuade the tech industry that beautiful design has a function but also has an appeal to consumers,” says Serota.
“We always joked that one of the greatest sources of our inspiration was the fact that there was just so much stuff out there that we didn’t like,” says Newson. “The negativity sort of became a positive source of inspiration.” Newson says that Ive’s hand could improve a plethora of badly designed products beyond technology, such as cars—though he says he has no idea if Apple is working on a car. (Ive is particular about the three cars he owns, a vintage Bentley, a Range Rover and a 1964 Aston Martin.) Ive, who Foster says defines the current age of design, as legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams did for an earlier generation, has more than 5,000 patents to his name. “Ive is like an actor who is limitless in his ability to bring any character to life,” says Abrams.
The desire for light and air, crossed with the need for enough density to house 12,000 employees, gave shape to Apple Park’s main building. Ive, tracing an infinity sign in the air, says they considered complex forms, including a trilobal design, a sort of giant fidget spinner. Ultimately they decided that only a ring shape could give the feeling of being close to the elements.
The design called for four stories of office space, more than Ive had hoped, but few enough that “it means that you don’t need to use elevators, you can walk to visit people, you can walk for meetings,” he says. Blueprints and photos capturing the designs wallpaper a building across the street from the campus that serves as a headquarters for the construction project. (At the height of activity in February, 6,200 construction workers were on-site daily.) A diagram lays out where the different divisions will be located in the main building: The fourth floor will be home to the executive suites (including Ive’s design studio), the watch team and part of the group working on Siri, which will also occupy a fraction of the third floor. The Mac and iPad divisions will be interspersed with software teams on the middle levels.
Having settled on an overall shape, the team then broke it down into smaller parts. “One of the advantages of this ring is the repetition of a number of segments,” says Ive. “We could put enormous care and attention to detail into what is essentially a slice that is then repeated. So there’s tremendous pragmatism in the building.” The ring would be made up of pods—units of workspace—built around a central area, like a spoke pointing toward the center of the ring, and a row of customizable seating within each site: 80 pods per floor, 320 in total, but only one to prototype and get right.
The first prototype was ready in the summer of 2010, with pictures of trees on either end of the central area to evoke the landscaping and proximity to the outdoors. Jobs himself set the precise dimensions of the openings from one end of the central area to the other. The team quickly discovered that early versions of the small offices on each side of the central area were noisy—sound bounced off the flat wood walls. Foster’s architects suggested perforating the walls with millions of tiny holes and lining them with an absorbent material. In the completed section of workspace, Ive snaps his fingers to demonstrate the warm sound it creates.
While Apple Park was in development, Ive worked on his own architectural project on the side: a red brick mansion he bought in 2012 in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, for which he hired Foster to help implement his designs. Ive lives there with his wife, Heather, whom he married in 1987, and their twin 13-year-old sons, Charlie and Harry. “It’s a wonderful mixture of something quite old and historically significant and something that is very modern and very rigorous,” says Newson. “The thing about that level of perfectionism and that level of simplicity is it really belies the complexity.”
“The materiality of it is inspiring,” says Powell Jobs. “The quality of the wood, the quality of the stone, the quality of the light—that’s what makes it so beautiful.”
The same attributes accent Apple Park, though the materials are deceptively humble. Most of the ring is made of glass and concrete, Ive points out—though the concrete on the ceilings that run the inner and outer circumferences has been polished to mimic the terrazzo floor in the staircases, down to the same flecks of rock.
The main cafeteria, where Ive began his tour of the recent progress on campus, is a four-level atrium with massive 440,000-pound glass doors that open on both sides to let air pass through. Giant columns clad in blasted steel resemble the aluminum used on Apple’s phones and computers. (Apple built a prototype of the cafeteria near its old headquarters, where it has been testing meal service for three years.) Ive imagines it as a central meeting point—the kitchen will serve 14,000 lunches a day—leading to the kinds of serendipitous encounters that could give birth to new ideas. Apple employees will pay for the food served here, but at a somewhat subsidized rate. “Steve’s philosophy was that when people have skin in the game, they appreciate it more,” says Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’s head of real estate and development.
Employees will have many other opportunities to gather. The central parkland will be the venue for Apple’s famous “beer bashes,” Friday afternoon parties, often with featured entertainment. The Steve Jobs Theater, whose primary use will be for product-launch events, will also host seminar talks, small concerts and meetings with Cook or Ive that will be simulcast to every pod on campus.
Ive and Cook place great importance on employees being physically together at work—ironic for a company that has created devices that enable people to work from a distance. Face-to-face communication is essential during the beginning of a project, when an idea is sprouting, they say. Once a model emerges from a series of conversations, it draws people in and gives focus. “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction,” says Cook, “and I don’t think it will ever happen.”
THE THOUSANDS OF employees at Apple Park will need to bend slightly to Ive’s vision of the workplace. Many will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to. Coders and programmers are concerned that their work surroundings will be too noisy and distracting. Whiteboards—synonymous with Silicon Valley brainstorming—are built into floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the central area of each pod, but “some of the engineers are freaking out” that it isn’t enough, says Whisenhunt. iPhones will be the primary mode of communication for everyone, though individuals can also lobby for a desk phone, if they feel they have a need for one.
Ive wants movement to be at the core of the work environment—something that seems unavoidable with such a large campus. There will be 2,000 custom bikes made by Public Bikes and painted “Apple gray.” Some employees talk about bringing a change of shoes for the quarter-mile hike from the parking structures at the edge of the campus to the main building, but there will also be electric golf carts and a commuter shuttle between the parking structures and the ring. To help employees find their way around, the campus will be mapped on Apple Maps.
The temperature in the building will stay within a 10-degree range (68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit), thanks to a cutting-edge ventilation system that streams outside air in through gaps in the glass walls and cools it with chilled water, while simultaneously evacuating warm air through shafts that open skyward. The building will draw approximately 80 percent of its power from solar panels on the roof and from fuel cells (and the remaining 20 percent from other sources of renewable energy); recycled wood has been used for much of the interior. Such environmental innovations receive praise from former Vice President Al Gore, an Apple board member. “I’m a fan of the Churchill saying,” Gore says. “ ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.’ ”
Ive takes offense at the idea that he hasn’t already thought of every detail during the years of planning Apple Park. He scoffs at an article claiming that Apple contributed to a tree shortage in the Bay Area by buying up so many plants for the campus, “as if we’d got to the end of our project and we thought, Oh, we’d better plant some trees.” Apple began working with an arborist years ago to source trees, including varieties that once made up the bountiful orchards of Silicon Valley; more than 9,000, many of them drought-resistant, will have been planted by the time the campus is finished.
During Ive’s visit, trees heavy with summer stone fruits were waiting to be planted in the center of the ring to create the parkland. These will be regularly harvested to provide fruit for the campus kitchen.
Some of the greenery has already taken root around the ring, leading to a surprise that Ive hadn’t foreseen in prototyping. The tinted-glass canopies that jut out from each floor like the brim of a hat are so luminous that they reflect what’s above and below, casting a green glow from the trees into the hallways.
In the next few months, Ive will transition from being the creator of Apple Park to one of its thousands of users. His design team is scheduled to be one of the last to move into the new headquarters this fall—around the same time as the event at which Apple has typically unveiled its new iPhone. The next frontier Ive faces, beyond reinventing a greatest hit, is how to further embed technology onto our bodies and into our homes, using devices such as the Apple Watch, AirPods and HomePods as the beachheads for collecting data and tracking ourselves. “Everything we design and make in the future is going to start right here,” he says.
With each new product Apple rolls out, its predecessors seem a little antiquated. But Ive and Jobs built Apple Park to last, and their legacy will be etched into the glass, concrete and trees for decades to come. Just as the ring blurs the boundary between inside and outside, Ive’s personal and professional lives are fluid. As a designer, “you spend so much time living in or living with the solution that doesn’t yet exist,” he says. “I’m just looking forward to going to see an engineer I’m working with on something, to sit there and perhaps walk out and sit outside for a bit with him, to be able to go to the workshop and start to see how we’re building something.”


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