"When companies plan wildly ambitious, over-the-top headquarters, it is sometimes a sign of imperial hubris."
Writing in the New Yorker's blog (but not, interestingly, in the magazine itself) Paul Goldberger has cast his architecture critic's eye on drawings for Apple's (AAPL) proposed headquarters and found them troubling -- and a bit scary.
[Foster + Partners] has proposed a gargantuan glass-and-metal ring, four stories high, with a hole in the middle a third of a mile wide. The building, which will house upwards of twelve thousand employees, will have a circumference of a mile, and will be so huge that you won't really be able to perceive its shape, except from the air. Like everything Foster does, it will be sleek and impeccably detailed, but who wants to work in a gigantic donut? Steve Jobs, speaking to the Cupertino City Council, likened the building to a spaceship. But buildings aren't spaceships, any more than they are iPhones.
So why is Foster's design troubling, maybe even a bit scary? The genius of the iPhone, MacBook, iPad, and other Apple products is that they are tools that function well and happen to be breathtakingly beautiful. (Last year, I wrote about the design for the new Apple store on the Upper West Side.) A building is also a tool, but of a very different sort. In architecture, scale—the size of various parts of a building in proportion to one another and to the size of human beings—counts for a lot. With this building, there seems to be very little sense of any connection to human size. Flexibility is a hallmark of the iPad, and it counts in architecture, too, but how much flexibility is there in a vast office governed entirely by geometry? For all of Foster's sleekness, this Apple building seems more like a twenty-first-century version of the Pentagon.
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