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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

If you care about cities, return that new iPad

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 13, 2012

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  the new Apple "campus" (via City of Cupertino)

If you care about cities, about walkable communities, about healing the crappy environment thrust upon us for the last four decades in the form of suburban sprawl, then get a refund on that new iPad 3.  Take your iPhone back, too.  Because its manufacturer, oh-so-hip Apple, Inc., is betting that the company is cool enough to get away with violating even the most basic tenets of smart growth and walkability in the sprawling, car-dependent design of its new headquarters.  Don’t let them collect on that bet.

While communities all up and down the Silicon Valley are trying to repair sprawl by replacing it with smart growth, Apple is actually taking a site that is now parking lots and low-rise boxes and making it worse for the community.  Yes, it will be iconic, assuming you think a building shaped like a whitewall motorcycle tire is iconic, but it will reduce current street connectivity, seal off potential walking routes and, as I wrote some time back, essentially turn its back on its community.  With a parking garage designed to hold over ten thousand cars, by the way.

It is essentially the opposite of the great vision of a suburban retrofit that was presented in this space yesterday.  The site is remarkably similar, actually.  But, while June Williamson and Anne Vaterlaus proposed increased walkability, infill housing, and a street grid on the site, Apple is removing a street and putting up “perimeter protection” to make sure that anyone who might want to ride a bike or walk from point A to point B will have to go around the enormous site.

The definitive synthesis of land use and travel research found that the degree of street connectivity (frequent intersections and blocks sized for foot travel, creating multiple pathways, are best) is the number one indicator of how much walking takes place in a neighborhood.  And it’s the number two indicator of how much driving takes place, bringing emissions with it. 

  the existing site (via Google Earth)

  the future of the site (via City of Cupertino)

While the area is so car-dependent now that I’m sure few people there do much bicycling or walking, that’s not the point:  This will be locked in place for thirty, forty, fifty years down the road.  A lot of us are hoping current suburbs can be made more sustainable and people-friendly by then, with walkable mixed uses.  Everything that Richard Florida and Chris Leinberger have been telling us for the last decade points to a future market that is going to want more, not less, walkable urbanism

The business community in the currently car-dependent, asphalt-and-low-rise suburb of Dublin, Ohio, believes that the kinds of employees they want to attract are going to demand it.  Companies all over the country are abandoning the tired suburban campus model in favor of more urban settings.

Apple seems to think it is hip enough to transcend what most of us want for the future from everyone else, and that the city of Cupertino will be so appreciative of the company’s jobs and tax revenue that high-concept design and the corporate equivalent of a gated community will be more important than trying to cut down on automobile dependence.

The company didn’t have to do it this way.  They could have built the site with a combination of corporate offices, new housing (the notorious shortage of affordable homes in the Silicon Valley causes much environmental damage), and neighborhood services.  They still could have found a way to secure parts of their offices that need to be secure.  If they built enough new units of housing, perhaps they could reduce the hefty amount of corporate parking, because some employees could choose to live nearby and walk.  By facing the street, they could have set themselves up nicely for a future transit line. 

They could have helped create a real neighborhood by knitting together a district that is currently fractured spatially.  They could have made this about the community rather than about themselves.  But this isn’t really for the people, see; this is for the one percent.  If the Occupy movement had a clue, there would be tents going up in Cupertino right now.

When the new facility was first proposed, Galina Tachieva, author of the Sprawl Repair Manual, criticized itSo did Lloyd Alter of Treehugger.  So did the LA TimesSo did I.  (But one urbanist whom I like very much but who apparently worships at the Church of Steve Jobs actually celebrated Jobs's advocacy for this mistake.)  I had some hope that the design would be improved before being formally submitted.  Silly me.

I guess I don’t have to like it.  But I don’t have to buy Apple's products, either.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s Sustainable Communities Video Channel.

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sassigalMar 13 2012 10:45 AM

Actually it is because I care very much about the environment that I am keeping my new iPad. Since owning an iPad 2 years ago I stopped printing unnecessary pages that I can view digitally. That and converting to ebooks and making purchases online instead of burning gas going from store to store are just a few of the reasons why iPads are God sent to save our environment. So GO APPLE. You are just another sad success hater.

NedMar 13 2012 11:42 AM

Sassigal has it right + Apple will be planting a fruit forest inside and around the campus.

csdiegoMar 13 2012 11:55 AM

Wow. I've already been thinking about ditching the iPhone, and this new campus might be what puts me over the edge. Strike one is the awful tech support; strike two is AT&T's borderline-illegal tactics to cut me from the unlimited data plan. This throwback design might very well be strike three. I might keep the iPhone for utilitarian reasons, but Apple is definitely over as a cutting-edge brand.

As for Sassigal's post... no. You don't need an iPad to shop or read online. Try harder, Apple.

Randy GarbinMar 13 2012 12:27 PM

Sure. Have an alternative made by a company with a better overall record than Apple?

Didn't think so...

I'm in agreement about the sprawling nature of this particular development. It's a beautiful building, but as we all know, these things don't exist in a vacuum (though this spaceship should).

I'm as disappointed as anyone at the lost opportunity here, but I'll no more give up my new iPad than I will give up my car anytime soon. I live in a walkable area and I use transit when I can, but I do love to drive. Thankfully I don't have to all the time.

Also, it looks like I'll be doing a lot more work on my iPad which uses much less power than my laptop. Overall, a net good all thanks to Apple.

BrianMar 13 2012 12:41 PM

This seems no different than what we do in Naples,fl popping up hated community after gated community. You can't walk anywhere but the beach.

Walk ability is is one aspect I miss about living in cincinnati. Not sure we need to return our convenient devices but would be interesting to see what their community felt about popping a huge campus in Cupertino.

Apple is so admired right now they could probably build a huge apple store right in the middle of downtown and would get approved based on tax revene alone.

What do you think? Big apple store right next to the Tyler Davidson fountain?

Mike HicksMar 13 2012 12:44 PM

That's an impossibly clean design. The access roads are almost invisible in that aerial rendering, and they didn't include a bunch of details that are in the site plan documents on the city of Cupertino's website (or at least they seem to be reduced in size in that image). Certainly, they plan to use a few tunnels to hide things, but I strongly suspect that the traffic flows will get screwed up enough to require a lot more concrete and asphalt than what's visible.

That's a very strange setup for parking -- if you're lucky (I guess), you can live a tunneled existence and park in one of about three levels underneath that enormous ring. If you're unlucky, you get to walk for 5-10 minutes from one of the 4-story ramps at the south end of campus -- just to get to the building entrance. Hopefully your destination isn't on the north side of the building, which means another 5 or 10 minutes of walking. That ring is pretty enourmous -- I'm pretty sure it's bigger around than the Mall of America's main hallway loop.

Still, taking away the existing acres of asphalt be a good thing, and I'm sure some employees would enjoy the more natural landscape (though it would take many years for that to properly develop). But in the end, I just see it as the world's largest "nature band-aid".

MarkMar 13 2012 02:57 PM

Amazon seems to be taking the opposite approach in Seattle, constructing a series of buildings integrated into the street grid in a neighborhood north of downtown. It offers a nice counterpoint to the notion that tech companies require isolated suburban office complexes.

Kaid @ NRDCMar 13 2012 03:17 PM

Thanks for the perspectives.

And thanks to Chuck Wolfe for passing along this more sophisticated review (better than mine) of the Apple campus:

mangy_dogMar 13 2012 03:38 PM

Gag. First Greenpeace. Then Mike Daisey. Now the NRDC.

This is naked opportunism at work. Apple is a progressive corporation, but it gets targeted by all sorts of causes trying to nose into the limelight.

Although I've supported NRDC in the past, I have to say "never again." There are many worse villians you should be chasing. You're not trying to save the world - you're trying to raise funds.

Forget it.

Matt KornerMar 13 2012 04:02 PM

This building is an embarrassment. It looks like something from the '60's.

If Apple builds the damn thing, the company will reap the whirlwind for a long time to come as every other tech. company goes in the opposite direction.

Zvi LeveMar 13 2012 04:27 PM

The New Yorker article about the building is quite good (, especially the conclusion: Architecture isn’t in itself a cause of corporate decline—that notion is ridiculous—but overbearing buildings can sometimes be a symptom of companies losing touch with reality, and this problem will manifest itself in other ways. It’s said that Steve Jobs considers this building to be a key part of his legacy, which would be unfortunate, because it would mean that his last contribution to his company might well be his least meaningful.

daveWMar 13 2012 04:31 PM

dude this is not a residential site, this is private acreage, an office and a research facility..

ask the folks in Cupertino whether they would like Apple to move somewhere else (Jobs had already said plenty of places want apple to relocate and have offered tax incentives etc. ) as once apple is gone they will have 'better street access' - but of course they will have no thousands of jobs and no biggest tax payer.

apple wants to put green on the surface and parking lots underground and it's BAD? the ugly concrete no green mess of HP buildings and sprawl of parking lots that existed before better?

as for security have we forgotten how much interest people have in apple prototypes etc. Billions of bucks involved. Amazon can have a more open concept as People aren't very interested in Amazon's books selling secrets -- it's Kindle etc are not ground breaking devices (just cheap) and completely designed and built by others. You're like comparing a steel manufacturer and a bank and saying why can't the steel factory be as quiet and 'open' to passerbys as a bank, apples and oranges...

As for housing, if Apple built housing you'll be writing an article condemning it , saying Apple is keeping indentured slaves or something and buiding housing to 'force' workers to be oncall 24/7 (like what the press did with Foxconn).

For haters, apple can never do the right thing.

Hakalau TomMar 13 2012 05:51 PM

The building itself is a multi-decade commitment, but not necessarily all the grounds. By concentrating the office space in the center, Apple opens the possibility of future street-facing shops around much of the perimeter. If Cupertino transforms to Manhattan, 12,000 employees could all live within walking distance. Otherwise, mass transit will be required, and Apple's new campus is well designed for it. Note that about half of the 8700 parking spaces are in a structure that faces the exterior, and could in future be available to neighbors, allowing them to replace parking lots with green walking space. That would leave for Apple the underground garage with about one space per three employees, an aggressively low target.

Mike ColianiMar 14 2012 12:32 PM

Thee is a major flaw to your argument: over 90% of that land was and still is private propert.. Which means: you weren't able to walk or drive on it anyways in the first place..

Stop trolling for Web traffic... Just because you tell yourself it's true enough times til ou believe it doesn't make it actually true...

David EdmondsonMar 14 2012 01:29 PM

Lots of Apple support out here, but here's what I'm thinking:

Apple has a chance to build an iconic structure and builds an office park to end office parks, defining the neighborhood and making journeys around it significantly longer for anyone without a car.

Far, far better would be for Apple to keep its iconic Isengarde plans but connect the park around it to the rest of the community, building paths and streets to run through it.

Even better would be for Apple to build a model technology village with housing, shops, and offices for employees, partner companies, startups, and the general public. An Apple souk, so to speak. It remains iconic, but is urbanist and iconic, not just another walled paradise.

BossiMar 14 2012 02:19 PM

Reminds me of futurist designs from the middle of the 20th century... admittedly neat-looking, but in hindsight not the most practical.

LindsayMar 14 2012 03:55 PM

I have an iPad. I have so much hate for all the whiners who think they are Apple's knights in shining armor, running to attack anyone who dare says anything against them. Jesus.

This campus is so poorly designed, if a kid in one of my urban design classes came out with this mess I would have given them a D. I sure wouldn't want to work there, Apple or not.

I doubt the "forest" they are planting will make up for all the car trips they could have saved had they designed in an actually earth-concious way. The fruit trees are little more than green washing.

Chad RMar 14 2012 04:28 PM

I'm getting a little tired of this Apple-bashing. I'm sure, much like the Foxconn worker's story, that this is not the most egregious violation of this sort, but Apple is an easy target, I guess. Anyway, what will you buy instead? An Asus tablet? What are the conditions for their workers? How environmentally sound is their headquarters? Don't know? Didn't think so.

PaulMar 15 2012 12:28 AM

This place, with 10,000 spaces, will have more parking than the Pentagon (the largest office building in the world by floor area).

Is Apple expecting everyone to cram into an underground garage in their own personal car? If so, then hopefully everyone gets to work in shifts, because woe be to you if everyone tries to leave at 5:00.

10drxtcMar 15 2012 01:01 AM

apple users are are bunch of entitled brats

#1 it will cost over a hundred dollars to replace the battery because unlike other products you can't do it yourself

#2 these stupid huge square plugs that block both outlets if they put it in the top plug (which they do 90% of the time) and they get annoyed when you ask them to move their plug so you can use the PUBLIC outlet as well...and forget about plugging in 2 apples with this stupid design

#3spec for spec aplles are much more expensive..

i see the people defending apple as being the same elitist snobs who defend and support Al Gore and his BS carbon tax support when he lives in a mansion and drives a SUV..

JakeMar 15 2012 09:44 PM

There are a lot of topics being tossed into this posting.
The construction of this HQ would be slap in the face to many. It would provide a lot of benefits to Apple. Not necessarily Apple's employees. This concept tells more about Job's vision, not the designers or architects who developed his vision. I think the designers were successful on delivering Job's intent.

A forest that size was probably leveled to create the amount of paper and pencils to develop and carry through the design to construction. For the sake of argument. The park is null.

Overall, an improvement in eyesight to the city. But it fails in every situation after that. Urban design, community, connectivity, mass transit and longevity.

I applaud the Amazon HQ. For those of you who have not had a chance to live in Seattle before and after the HQ. It is a blessing. That area of town is still an eyesore nestled between a beautiful active lake and a downtown. But what Vulcan has been doing is great. even better when coupled with the Gates Foundation HQ being finished this last year. The future for this portion of Seattle will be a much needed improvement.

To make my case, this campus is a slap in the face to everything.

Andres DwanyMar 15 2012 09:55 PM

A good solution could have proposed some initiative for public transit, while maintaining company privacy.
This is not a failure of contemporary architecture, but stems from a lack of planning initiative. The building was a safe choice for Apple, the planning phase was uninformed.

Andres DwanyMar 15 2012 09:59 PM

Also, the new urbanist propaganda of "friendly public streets with cafes that encourage social interaction with the public". is not a real solution

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