There is one well-known perfectionist, a man some love to hate while other love to idolize. What no one can deny is that this person was relentless in his pursuit for detail, his passion for art-like technology and ability to envision not just innovative things, but the whole experience that goes along with them. That man’s name? Steve Jobs.
The last two years of his life Jobs spent working on something bigger than computers, he was sourcing the best architects and engineers who could realize his vision of a new campus, now know as the “Apple Park”. The main campus building was described by Jobs himself as “a spaceship landed.” In contrast to the somewhat architecturally modest campuses of Facebook and Google, the one envisioned by Steve is on track to become one of the most impressive structures of this century.
Complexity of Apple’s new campus stems not from a simple measurable property like size or height, but rather from the detail and quality of works expected from contractors.
Reuters provided us some first hand insights on just how far Apple’s requirements go. Sources state that Apple specified tolerances to an incredibly tight degree as to make everything look seamless, provided guidelines on use of materials that span 30+ pages, forbid interior workers to touch anything without wearing gloves and required that aesthetics of any hidden elements which can be seen in glass reflections are accounted for. Door handle design and finish is disputed with contractors for more than 1.5 years. Given such requirements it’s not that surprising to hear that Apple changed the main contractor several times, something you rarely see for a project this size.
Bloomberg’s sources state that the project is running at least 2 billion over the initial budget and it’s obvious that the completion deadline, initially put by Steve himself at year 2015, will be missed by 2 years at least.
Critiques are quick to point out such ordeal as a display of incompetence and weakness by Apple. Some go as far as to state that Apple is stupid in using the same approach to design and construct buildings as they use to design and build personal electronic devices. While I too love to point the finger and call out unapologetic decisions by Apple, be it the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone or removal of a a dedicated charging port from the macbook, in this case I feel just the opposite.
Such attention to detail and non-compromise approach is part of the reason Apple propelled to the #1 spot in the personal computing space. First hand experience in management of large scale commercial construction and fit out projects leads me to believe that Apple’s new campus will send disruptive ripples through the construction industry, and even those who never use Apple products, those that never plan to visit or even look at the “Spaceship” will feel the effects.
How is that, you wonder? Consider that the way Apple is pushing construction contractors is reminiscent of Steve Jobs pushing the iPod and the Mac OS X teams to design the iPhone. Such approach led to the transformation of the personal computing space, same approach can lead to the transformation of the construction space.
iPod, iPhone, MacBook Air an iPad, all products that opened a clear path which others followed. Some chose to mimic Apple while competing on price, others took some ideas and built on top, but even if you’ve never used Apple’s products you can’t deny that most modern computing devices were influenced by them. Equally the “Spaceship” will open the path for new construction techniques, new materials, new skills, all made available to the wider audience and with associated R&D costs preabsorbed.
Construction is a field which has not yet seen a shake up on the levels seen in the world of technology. There is tremendous potential to improve and speed up the pace of innovation. Energy efficiency, integration and ease of use, all of this can be improved, and perhaps catch up with the pace of digital solutions. And with IoT spreading ever deeper into our homes and offices that would be a welcomed thing.
In his presentation at the Cupertino Council Jobs wasn’t modest, “we have a shot at building the best office building in the world,” he said, and I believe that shot will not miss its target. With the “Spaceship” completed as envisioned, everything that follows has the potential to benefit both the office space, living space and the construction industry as a whole. The tools, materials and techniques created will tickle down the chain, so by the time you decide to renovate your crib or sit down with an architect to plan out your new house, there may well be an assortment of curved glass panels and perfect door handles available on the market.
It is, however, up to us, consumers, and the rest of the industry to keep the pace of progress going, new innovative solutions and products cannot survive without adequate demand. Luckily Apple have already set their sights at the next thing, less than 5 miles away from the Apple Park another campus is completing construction, Central & Wolfe “AC3”, which is very reminiscent of the Apple “Spaceship’s” curved glass design. Sources indicate that the complex is leased by Apple and it would not be surprising to find most of the newly developed materials and techniques applied to this site.
As for your individual contribution to the technological progress in the space of real-estate, if you can do a favor, check for seamless doors on your next architectural venture…