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August 24th, 2011

Back from the Future: Update on Apple and ASM HQ buildings

Published on August 24th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

Open vistas characterize the just-renovated headquarters of ASM International in Novelty, Ohio. The glass-sheathed, semicircular building was built in 1959. Apple proposes to build a much larger circular, glass-sheathed building to house 13,000 employees at its Cupertino, Calif. campus. Credit: ASM International

In mid-June we reported on Apple’s plans to build a new donut-shape headquarters building in Cupertino, Calif., which the techno-press has taken to describing as a spaceship. To see why, check out the concept images published last week by gizmag. See also articles on the building by PCWorld and TechCrunch. (The comments are more fun than the articles. My favorite: “One Ring to rule them all …”)

Overall, reactions to the plans seem to be more positive than not. However, Apple is not enjoying universal, gushing approval like that displayed by by Cupertino mayor, Gilbert Wong, when Steve Jobs presented the initial plans to the city council. For example, Lloyd Alter, writing for TreeHugger admires the building’s architecture, but takes Apple to task from an urban development point of view. In an earlier article he says, “I have serious issues with the design of this project. It turns its back on its community. It addresses the street with a wall of parking lots.”

Alter probably would not have the same reaction to the just-completed renovation of the ASM International headquarters in the countryside just east of Cleveland, Ohio, which we also told you about in the earlier post. Steven Litt, architecture critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, “The interplay between these pure geometric forms, and the undulating waves of the landscape sculpted by [architect] Kelly around the building, is sublime.” The geometric forms he refers to are the semicircular office building and the open-network geodesic dome over it.

I was treated to a tour of the new building yesterday. (It’s fair to tell you that I worked for ASM for several years, and I went there as a friend, not a critic.) An historic renovation, but very much a working office space, the interior design elements make strong reference to the 1960s (the building opened in 1959), but communicate a sense of modern purpose and functionality. For example, the furniture and carpet designs are reminiscent of the open, unembellished, low-slung, geometric styling of the ‘60s, but use updated colors and proportions that ignore the garish elements of that era.

The building has all-glass exterior and interior walls, with expansive vistas out of every spot in the building. There are no tall walls between work stations, and the work station partitions are a mix of wood and glass so the feeling inside the building is one of being barely indoors. All that is missing are the humidity, bugs, wind and snow. Conference rooms are glass-walled, too, and there is a subliminal buzz through the building that give a sense of flow—flow of light, sound, ideas, creativity, collaboration, etc.

The building was officially opened in August at a gala celebration for ASM and local dignitaries.

Of course, ASM’s staff of about 80 is puny compared to the 13,000 Apple proposes to employ at its new HQ. But, each person’s productivity is partly a function of their individual experience of the workplace. If the Apple architects can scale-up the size without creating a warehouse experience, the creative juices should continue to flow out of the fruity spaceship and into the marketplace.


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