A few hours ago one of the most influential figures in computing, product design, and in a way architecture, passed away.
Back in the 70s and 80s Steve Jobs played a key role in personal computing as the founder of Apple, bringing technology to the masses. I won’t go into details here, as I think that this ad featured on the Wall Street Journal back in 1981 pretty much explains it: “Putting real computer power in the hands of the individual is already improving the way people work, think, learn and communicate and spend their leisure hours”. I knew about his death via a notification on my iPhone, and I’m writing this on my iPad. None of these devices are what we define as “computers”, none of them are wired to what we call a “local network”.
As for product design, the “i” factor is pretty well known, and has been recognized by design masters such as Dieter Rams. In this field, his legacy will last forever.
“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” — Steve Jobs
But back to our field, Steve Jobs was a patron of architecture. Jobs worked with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, one of the most renowned US architecture firms, to develop state of the art retail stores across the world. In these iconic projects they took glass, one of the most essential materials in architecture, to the next level.
Many of Apple’s innovations are related to manufacturing, as we’ve seen on the Macbook Unibody aluminium design. In architecture there have been many breakthroughs related to manufacturing, such the signature glass staircase patented (PDF) in 2002 by Steve Jobs himself, or the curved glass panels used on the Apple Shanghai Store (pictured above) that are thought to be some of the largest manufactured to date.
These days the iconic Apple Store on NY’s 5th Avenue is being renovated, going from 90 glass panels down to 15, revealing a constant desire to improve and simplify their designs – in every scale.
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish” — Steve Jobs
And the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, commissioned to Foster + Partners, is what brings together all the previous points into one building. Curved glass, a new way to conceive office space planning, low impact on the existing site while providing more green areas, integrated design and a state of the art sustainable strategy, will be the Steve Jobs’ legacy for architecture when it opens its doors in 2015.
“It’s a circle, and so it’s curved all the way around. As you know if you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There’s not a straight piece of glass on this building, it’s all curved. And we’ve used our experience in making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use.” — Steve Jobs, presenting the new Apple Campus to the city of Cupertino, CA.
On a personal note I highly recommend watching his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech.