The Motherships Are Landing: What Google’s New Headquarters Reveal About Apple 2

When Apple revealed the plans for their new campus in Cupertino, the responses to the “spaceship” were….varied, to say the least:

Spectacular would be an understatement” ; “So disappointing…” ; a “…panopti-lawn…” ; and – my personal favorite – “Sphincter?” [1]

The announcement instigated a flurry of analyses and criticisms over the meaning of the design for the world – the Zen-like significance of the circle, the role of architecture in this technologically-driven age, the legacy and hubris of Jobs – but produced very little discussion over its meaning for the company itself.

Meanwhile, months before news of the “spaceship” landed, another internet giant was searching the California landscape for its own space to call home. Still very much under-wraps, the new Googleplex will be the first time Google builds a workplace completely from scratch. [2]

These projects will be the Magnum Opuses, the ultimate physical representations, of the two most influential Tech companies in the world, and the two share striking similarities. So let’s clash the plans of these two titans and take another look at Apple 2 – but this time in the light of – and see what they can tell us about these companies’ futures.

The Apple Effect

The Shanghai Apple Store © Roy Zipstein

There were no open competitions, no publicized discussions, or media-events. Both Google and Apple took the old-fashioned approach of hand-picking the architect who they felt could best execute each company’s vision – giving us our first clue to what that vision is.

The trademark architecture of Apple stores, as designed by Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, “push[ed] the limits of technology, particularly glass, to produce readily identifiable minimalist environments that would not overwhelm the products” – or the consumers for that matter. The cohesive, inviting user experience of the stores, and the popularity of the 5th Avenue and Shanghai stores, helped place the idea(l) of what an Apple building is into the collective consciousness of the public. No matter the product, or hooplah preceding the reveal, we expect of Apple three constants: minimalism, elegance, and innovation.[3]

But the Apple 2 campus, is in the hands, not of Bohlin, but of Foster + Partners. Why Foster and not Bohlin? What distinguishes these two firms – and what does Apple hope to accomplish with the design of its headquarters that differs from that of its stores?

We can find the answer by looking at Google.

Google’s “Healthy” Philosophy

Meeting Spaces in Google's Zurich Headquarters.

When Google redesigns a building, no matter in which corner of the world, they have one major focus: to make the environment “healthy.” Again and again we hear this mantra from Google higher-ups, because when Googlers say “healthy” they really mean two things: fun and green.

The fun part somewhat explains itself: if workers have fun at work, they want to go to work, stay at work, and, subsequently, work at work. A lot. It’s Google’s way of attracting talent and keeping them put.

Google’s Zurich building, perhaps the epitome of Google’s fun philosophy, focuses on diverse spaces that offer collaborative areas for idea-sharing and leisure/dining spaces for relaxing; it “operates as a self-contained city, providing for every facet of employee life.” [4]  In fact, the existing Googleplex in Mountainview, California, designed by Clive Wilkinson, purposely mimics the layout of a small city, with “ a central spine or ‘Main Street,’ around which ‘neighborhoods’ of activity are clustered.” The workplace becomes  a lifespace of innovation and productivity – and so why would you ever leave? [5]

But “Healthy” also means Green, which, while an excellent PR initiative, is actually part and parcel of Google’s worker-oriented philosophy. Yes, Google is trying to reduce its footprint, is investing millions in renewable energy, making transparent its energy consumption, but when it comes to its buildings, the green initiative is user (aka worker) oriented. For example, Google has been leveraging its power to make the construction industry publicize the contents of building materials (like the stamped ingredients on a Snickers bar) to make better construction choices. Moreover, it has created an impressive public transportation system to ensure that its buildings are well-connected to other cities. [6]

And so it’s not so surprising that for its new campus, which (without the barriers of existing architecture) will completely develop its Green initiatives, Google has chosen as its architectural partner Ingenhoven.

What Your Architect Says About You 

1 Bligh Office Tower © Ingenhoven Architects

Google & Ingenhoven

An award-winning German firm known for its sustainability and energy efficiency, Ingenhoven describes itself as “supergreen” in its efforts “to top the minimal standards required.” A look at its past work would seem to corroborate the claim: the carbon-free and zero energy Main Station in Stuttgart, awarded the Global Holcim Award in Gold in 2006 for its sustainable design; the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, certified as “Excellent” by the British Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM); the 1 Bligh building in Sydney, which will be the first high-rise to receive the 6 Star-World Leadership Certificate of the Australian Eco-Standard Green Star. [7]

The Mountain View project will be “an expression of the corporate culture and at the same time a model for sustainable architecture in the broadest sense surpassing the LEED-Platinum-Standards with its holistic concept.”

The selection of a conspicuously Green architect that will be able to integrate Google’s worker-oriented culture with state-of-the-art Green technology leads us back to Apple and  our original question: what does Apple want from the design of its headquarters?

Apple & Foster + Partners

Let’s start with the basics: Foster + Partners? They’re big. BDOnline recently reported that the firm has “posted a major rise in profits for the year [...] £10.9 million, up from £1.6 million.” It’s a firm known for “super-sleek, elegant, exquisitely detailed buildings” and maintaining “quality even as it produces more enormous corporate, institutional, and civic buildings all over the world.” [8]

They’re also known for impressive, green structures, including Masdar City’s first solar powered building, the Masdar Institute; In fact, the firm has its own Research and Development Group (and Sustainability Forum) to make their buildings as sustainable as possible. Future projects include the staggeringly ambitious, environmentally noninvasive Thames Hub proposal.

Much like the Thames Hub, the infrastructure (most significantly, the parking structures) of Apple 2 will be underground to let the landscape remain virtually untouched – a fact most critics ignored in their discussion of the “donut.”Jobs’ presentation to the Cupertino city council, in fact used the landscape and greenness as the design’s selling points:

Employees +40%

Space +20%

Landscape +350%

Trees +60%

Surface Parking -90%

Building Footprint -30% 


Moreover, while referencing Bohlin’s trademark stores, as Foster’s circular design will similarly be a feat in glasswork, the Apple 2 will be completely transparent in order to integrate it into the completely revamped landscaping around it.

This was the point of the circle: to create a landscape-centered allocation of space. To take away the asphalt and bring back the trees. To make it a beautiful place to work.

Progress or Hubris?

Apple Campus 2 © Foster + Partners

We can now see the difference between Bohlin and Foster’s design ethos, and the key to Apple’s intention with the Apple 2 campus: The User-Experience. The Apple headquarters are not meant to create a minimalist environment that speaks to the Apple-product user; much like Google’s future HQ, the Apple 2 will be an environmentally friendly, energy-efficient campus that encourages a culture of innovation and productivity for the Apple worker.

For this reason the circle, or, yes “fortress” as some critics have called it, acts as a self-contained city. As Google’s buildings show us, this containment is the goal, so that the building becomes an integral part of its workers’ lives.

However, there is one important limitation to Apple’s choice of the circle: there is no room for growth – or shrinkage. The circle will remain an inflexible structure and crystallized symbol of Apple’s power as it exists right now. Should the company continue to grow, the Headquarters will no longer serve its purpose; should it begin to fail, the building will “create a void of inactivity visible to all.” [10]

It is this brazenness – this theory of containment taken to its logical, if not practical, end – which has led some to predict that Apple 2 is “a sign of imperial hubris” that shows how out of touch Apple is. Of course, only time will tell, but Google would be wise to listen to these criticisms, to maintain a balance of containment with connectivity, and bring its designs firmly back to earth.



[1] May, Kyle, ed.  “In one sentence, what are your thoughts on the design proposal for the Apple Campus 2 project?” CLOG: APPLE. 74 – 77. <>.

[2] Swift, Mike. “Google to Build Its Own Office Space” Mercury News. <>

[3] Varnelis, Kazys. ”The Architect.” CLOG: APPLE. Ed. Kyle May. 45. <>.

[4] Quirk , Vanessa. “Caring for Your Office Introvert” ArchDaily. <>

[5] Chen, Aric. “The Builder: The man behind the new ‘Googleplex’ and a long list of eye-popping interiors.” Fast Company. <>

[6]Ravitz, Anthony. “Leading the Charge for Better Buildings.” VERGE DC Conference. 14 March 2012.  <>

[7] Minner, Kelly. “Google to build sustainable Headquarters in with Ingenhoven Architects.” ArchDaily. <>

[8] Goldberger, Paul. “Apple’s New Headquarters.” The New Yorker. 20 September 2011. <>

[9] “Steve Jobs Presents to the Cupertino City Council (6/7/11)” Cupertinocitychannel on YouTube. <>

[10] Cornelissen, Haiko. ”Apple Bite.” CLOG: APPLE. Ed. Kyle May. 105. <>.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "The Motherships Are Landing: What Google’s New Headquarters Reveal About Apple 2" 16 Mar 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 21 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Sorry but I find this a bit weak. A blog for designers talking about how two design companies select designers to create built form to serve thier primary design teams. Yet doesn’t even touch the design process of the two companies in question. Look at the differences, even just the one publicly stated, between apple and google as to how they set about attacking a design challenge. Add Facebook to that mix and you see three very distinct attitudes manifest them selves in three distinct built forms.

    The post seems to heavily mired in negative writers showing little interest in how other designers really work.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    It is odd that when confronted with a site of tremendous possibilities Apple chose what is essentially as limiting to growth as a skyscraper in an urban environment: a perfect circle, complete, unchanging.I’m sure it will be a subtle and skilled job by Foster + Co. but given the nature of the business how many weeks before it is completed will it be outgrown?

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      , I refused an invetriew.I have nothing to say , sir;Nothing to say to you. And then he talked till the sun went downAnd the chickens went to roost;And he seized the collar of the poor young man,And never his hold he loosed.And the sun went down and the moon came up,And he talked till the dawn of day;Though he said, I have nothing whatever to say. And down the reporter dropped to sleepAnd flat on the floor he lay;And the last he heard was the great man’s words, I have nothing at all to say. ოხენრი :Dეს ჯასთ გამახსენდაწიპაFანია

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I don’t see why the Apple donut should be any more inflexible than, say, a skyscraper. Lease a section of it to someone else if you don’t need it.

    In any case, Apple’s current campus is only a short distance away and it consists of several buildings. If they need to downsize, I’m sure they can let go of the older buildings one by one.

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      I think you’re right: there’s nothing inherent about a circle that is more inflexible – - in fact, I can see how it can be considered *more* flexible:

      First, any building is going to have a finite amount of space / square footage. While it certainly is possible to design a high rise that can have floors added on at a later date, how rarely does that really happen? Pretty much never. As such, this “finite” bit is a red herring distraction.

      However, I do see how a circle can be more flexible: within the paradigms of classical high rises, Department A will be on the 3rd & 4th floor, Dept B on the 5th, 6th & 7th, Dept C on the 8th, 9th, etc. Now what happens if Dept B needs to expand? Once they fill the floor, they need a new floor..and it won’t necessarily be easy to steal space from A or C … the shrinkage could be in Dept F another ten floors up. By using a big circular structure and Departments & workgroups can be organized both by floor and by the amount of “pie wedge” they occupy on each floor.

      Finally, what’s missing from this paper is what the respective plans are for engagement of their office park to the local transporation infrastructure. Apple’s is clearly not in an urban downtown environment, for example.


  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Hard to call a window completely lacking operable windows, located in one of the world’s most benign climates, green.

    • Thumb up Thumb down -1

      Kim, great thoughts. Thanks.I rellay need a portable device for online communications when I’m away from a computer. I’m concerned about the low memory capacity of the iPod Touch. Should I be?I like the shuffle for the gym etc. because it’s so small and you can actually clip it on to your clothes. Read about the upcoming for the first group of iPhone customers.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    From a non-architectural standpoint, yes, I think Google wants to expand continuously, whereas Apple thinks they know the ideal size for a core team. They believe it doesn’t need to grow larger as their market grows larger. I think they are right.

    Apple Campus 2 will house 12-13,000 employees! The “cafe”/cafeteria will serve 3,000 people at once. Apple Campus 1 houses 5-9 thousand? (Unsure, but it’s certainly much smaller than Campus 2.) Moreover, Apple Campus 1 is over-crowded and flooding into other nearby office parks, shared commercial space.

    Apple can move 90% of Campus 1 into the new facilities, and still grow 50% larger in Apple Campus 2 over a decade or two — while rebuilding a nearly empty Infinite Loop and surrounding area (a more interesting architectural challenge) in similar fashion as the new property, and then have room for another 10,000+ employees. That’s an Apple with two campuses of 25,000 core employees separated by a couple of blocks.

    Apple likes small teams. The first to move/new employees will be in the small, plain research facilities in the SW corner of the property. Each facility will probably only have tens of people allowed to ever enter them. Apps are built by teams of 5 or less, core technologies by teams more likely in the teens than the hundreds. The vast majority of Apple’s 60,000 employees is retail staff. The fastest categories of employee growth (partly a guess) are retail, app review, and customer support — roles that do not need to be on the main campus and largely aren’t already. Apple is more likely to need to build campuses in other cities or countries than grow beyond what they already own in Cupertino. The Spaceship is huge, and Infinite Loop+ can also be rebuilt. Apple’s plans allow for decades to a century of growth.

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      To me this is the sort of analysis the article missed. At it’s core Apple is a whole widget company (at least during it’s successful periods) yet for almost all of that history has been scattered around a number of buildings, they already know how to cope with off-site teams. Growing larger isn’t an issue. This building seems to be about bring the core of the company together.

      Why they’d want to do that is the same reason every company wants that. To promote casual interaction. While the teams are in the core building Apples wants them talking. Yes they have highly secretive projects going on but the core of all Apple projects is the integration.

      From an Interaction perspective, we’ve moved away from towers. Lifts are rapid transport you might get casual meetings but they can’t be productive in a lift, the predicable location makes them in-secure, the movement of the lift sets a timeframe.

      So we moved to low rise or grouped floors with stairs. Now casual meeting happen all the time on or near the stairs as people move around. For larger companies you end up with a very long vast buildings. Ok great for the teams you know you want to interact but what about those people who need to cover a lot of groups. Every step they take towards one group is moving them away from where they need to be next. So they might avoid visiting the out reaches.

      With a circle there are no outer reaches. Go far enough in circle and your next destination might be closer if you just keep going forward. This would suit Apple in a way that would be a waste in a company that is more modular or linear in it workflow like Google and Facebook seem to be.

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        Your analysis is also great and appreciated; you have some insights I hadn’t fully considered.

        People just want to be, “Oh, it’s a circle. How cliché! How limiting!” Dana above says that it can’t be “green” because it’s climate-controlled (the glass walls do not have windows that open). But the whole building CONTAINS a fruit orchard, large and small trees, a fountain, an outdoor amphitheater, an outdoor cafe, pathways, and grasses. The majority of the building (in 2D space) is “outside” (by my back of the envelope calculations: 337,464 sq ft outdoor courtyard, 240,315 sq ft per interior space — of course, there are four floors ). The encircled landscape is a central space of the building for meeting and socializing WHILE acting as the central “corridor” for communicating between the “wedges.”

        It seems to me the design not only meets the goals of most large, technology companies, but it really does perfectly match with the vision, goals, and values of Apple. (It’s easy to misunderstand and criticize both Apple and architecture.)

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    Wouldn’t hurt to add in a little about Pixar’s campus HQ which Steve Jobs was also involved in.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    cool link:
    all about Apple Campus II

    Apple Campus II Spaceship/Mothership
    was revealed to public or Cupertino City Council 2011-11-04

    GooglePlex’s Magnum Opus seems a more sophisticated or advanced design by ultra green efficient german architectural firm Ingenhoven in opposition to Apple’s unfortunately more corny design. shame, as one expected more radical design from the Silicon Pirate…

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