By now, you might have heard internet whispers that Lord Norman Foster may be transforming the old HP campus into Apple City. It shouldn’t be surprising that a crazy successful technology company would hire a crazy successful architect, but I was a little surprised with the rumored selection. Why? I think Apple’s approach to technology (as evident in their product design) and Foster+Partners approach to technology (as evidenced in their architecture design) while parallel, are not as close to each other as some other firms. The technology physically embedded in Apple devices increasingly calls less attention to itself: hinges are concealed, latches are magnetic, even the sleep indicator light shines through almost invisible holes in front of the aluminum casing. The technology utilized by Foster + Partners is a little more expressive: think of the diagrid structure expressed on the exterior of many of their projects (including Hearst Tower, 30 St. Mary Axe, and the Bow.)
Comparing buildings and objects may be comparing apples and oranges, so let’s compare tables and tables. The maple tables used in Apple Stores are a bit less expressive than Foster + Partners’ Tecno – Nomos desking system (above, top picture). Foster makes the surface of the table disappear as much as possible so he can show off the details of a base that resembles the feet of an Apollo Lunar Module. The maple tables used in Apple Stores hide things– things like power sources, security devices, and cash drawers. Yes, these are just two details, but these are two incredibly detail-oriented companies; comparing tables demonstrates differing attitudes about technological expression.
There is precedent. The lower picture above is Foster’s built work for the IBM Pilot Head Office. It’s an older project, completed in 1971, but it was designed for a growing technology company and looks more like something I would expect for Apple than Foster’s more recently completed Shanghai Expo Pavilion or the Masdar Development (folks seem to be using renderings of Masdar to break the news since the new campus will purportedly borrow technology Foster developed there.) My thoughts are that the bits borrowed from the desert will deal more with sustainable infrastructure than building expression. But I look forward to seeing what parts he adopts and adapts for Cupertino, how he structures and expresses structure in his solution, and what kind of tables you’ll find when the campus opens.
BONUS FEATURE: Below are some representative projects from Foster + Partners as well as a few that I think/hope will influence the firm as they maybe plot out Apple City.