Is Apple's 'Spaceship' Campus Too Far Out?

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On June 7, Apple founder Steve Jobs paid a rare visit to the City Council in Cupertino, Calif., to present his vision for a new corporate campus.

Although the Apple campus won’t require formal approval until fall 2012, Jobs took the opportunity to highlight its distinctive features.

The prospective four-story building, which Jobs told council members “looks a little bit like a spaceship,” abounds with potential benefits — in theory, at least.

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Jobs said the campus will ideally run off alternative energy sources and increase surrounding green space by 60 percent.

In addition, the donut-shaped complex will be flooded with natural lighting, thanks to expansive windows that will stretch around the entire structure.

But is this mega-building something realistic or an architectural fantasy from outer space?

“There’s a lot of research and simulation studies that are needed to verify that what’s planned actually delivers some of its intended goals,” said Ihab Elzeyadi, associate professor of architecture and director of the High Performance Environments Lab at University of Oregon.

Specifically, the impressive size of the sprawling Apple spaceship could pose a problem.

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“To me this is a design of good intentions, but it’s hugely over-proportioned, over-scaled to the point that it defies the very essence that might make it great,” Elzeyadi.

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Consider the expansive central courtyard, the hole in the middle of the giant structural donut, meant to provide a pleasant outdoor space for Apple employees.

“Once the courtyard becomes so large and over-proportioned, you lose the bio-climatic benefits of a courtyard-centered building in creating a microclimate that is different from the un-protected space,” Elzeyai said. “But if your courtyard is that wide in diameter, it’s no longer functional.”

As a mega-structure, every detail of the Apple campus must be carefully considered, otherwise positive features – natural lights, additional green space, a spacious courtyard — could quickly become drawbacks that could dampen the employee experience.

Studies have found natural lighting can potentially reduce employee sick leave by 50 percent and improve performance, but if improper glass glazing refracts daylight into a harsh glare, it could trigger migraines and other unpleasant side effects.

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Elzeyadi also noted that it’s imperative to design complex, diverse green settings to create a healthy work environment from the outside in. To that end, Jobs’ plan to convert some of the land for apricot orchards, which the space was originally used for, could be a plus. 

Overall, the corporate architecture expert remains skeptical of the Apple spaceship’s practicality in practice. Although Apple continues to dazzle the tech industry with slick gadgets and software, its new campus might be one of its most impractical inventions.

“Spaceships might be great for science-fi movies but they make bad buildings,” Elzeyadi told Discovery News.

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