Apple's new Cupertino, California, office is a monster: a 2.8 million square-foot ring built on 175 acres, with space for 13,000 employees and a reported price tag of $5 billion.
But there's one element of the new Apple Park that its lead designer thinks is more important than all the others.
"There's a strong connection with nature and the landscape surrounding the building, and a high degree of ventilation," Lord Norman Foster, founder of architectural firm Foster + Partners, tells Inc. "When you can breathe fresh air and see the outdoors and the sky, you're more productive, more alert, and better able to respond to crises. Studies have shown that for decades, but that idea still hasn't percolated in the design world."
In 2009, Steve Jobs personally chose Foster, whose firm is based in London, to help make his vision of a "spaceship" campus a reality. That summer, Foster says, Jobs contacted him about the idea, and he flew out to Cupertino to discuss.
"Steve had a very clear vision of what the project was," Foster said backstage at the Wired Business Conference Wednesday in New York City. "He wanted something low to the ground, with a center courtyard with citrus groves, and a 1,000-person theater. He loved glass and stone. And he hated air conditioning."
When Jobs died in 2011, Foster says, that vision lived on through Tim Cook and Apple head designer Jony Ive. "Steve lived to see a complete design, down to where the staircases would be," he says. "That vision was looked after by Tim and Jony. It was a seamless transition."
In the completed Apple Park, giant glass windows--the largest pieces of curved glass ever manufactured--compose the facade of the main four-story ring. That gives workers a view of the outdoors from nearly any location inside. The glass is tempered to limit the glare and filter out some of the greenish glow from outside. On the ground level, in a massive cafeteria that can sit 3,000 people at once, giant doors can open up the eatery to the outside in 12 seconds.
Much of the greenery surrounding the office had to be brought in: Nearly 3,000 trees will have been planted on the campus by the time it's complete. Originally, the ground that the ring sits on was relatively flat; the designers created hills around the perimeter and in the center courtyard to give the landscape a rolling California feel. That courtyard, Foster says, is the best place to take it all in. "It's the only place," he says, "where you can truly capture this project's entirety."
Indoors, the air conditioning that Jobs hated is kept to a minimum. Air from outside is piped in through ventilation systems on each floor. The interior is clean--"almost zen-like," Foster says. "Because the support columns are all hidden within the walls, everything seems to be floating or hanging."
Thanks to solar panels covering the ring's roof, the campus will be 100 percent carbon neutral.
None of this is to say Foster thinks the campus is perfect. Per local regulations, it contains 11,000 parking spaces, many of them in parking garages adjacent to the ring. "Cars will be obsolete in 15 years," Foster said. "Maybe I could have pressed them a little harder and said that they should make the floor-to-floor space in the garages bigger, so you could retrofit it to be a working space."
Employees began moving into Apple Park from the old Apple campus in April, and the transition is expected to finish sometime this year. Foster predicts that both current and prospective employees will be impressed.
"It's healthier and sustainable, and has more ventilation," Foster says. "Nothing like this has ever really been done before."