Apple Park Vs. Googleplex: Headquarters of two giant global companies
Googleplex and Apple Park are the headquarters of two of the largest companies in the world, Google and Apple. Google, a search engine, AI, cloud computing, quantum computing, and computer electronics company, built the Googleplex in line with its vision of work collaboration and inclusiveness. Apple, the largest tech company in the world by revenue, built Apple Park in line with its dedication to design and powerful technology.
This article will compare the headquarters of Google and Apple and explore their architecture and design, innovation, planning, perks, work culture, and criticisms the designs have drawn over the years.
The Apple Park
Home of the Steve Jobs theater, a 2.8-million-square-foot main building, a 100% renewable power source, a 100,000-square-foot fitness center, and a whopping $4.17 billion budget on the main building – the Apple park is not just a campus or a building. It’s a leviathan work of art that represents Apple’s attention to product design, green energy, and innovative technology.
Apple Park is Apple's second campus and the late Steve Jobs' final construction project. And while he wasn't alive to witness the iconic building come to life, Jon Ive, Apple's former Chief Design Officer and Job's personal friend, named a theater after Steve Jobs to commemorate the founder's brilliance.
Apple Park is located in Cupertino, California. The design and construction of the campus concluded in 2017, and months later, the company ushered its employees into the 'spaceship' building. Before 2017, Apple's campus was located at the nearby address 1 Infinite Loop, long home to Apple's team of developers, product designers, and other employees.
The beauty of the Ring – Apple’s new campus
The Ring is Apple's main campus and is in the shape of a 'flying saucer. The building has eight hundred 45-foot tall glass panels connected all around the four-story structure. The curved glass structures symbolize Apple’s philosophy of transparency, minimalism, and clarity. The structures were designed by Foster + Partners, and the 3000-plus sheets of glass wrap were manufactured by Seele and their subsidiary, Sedak. Astonishingly, Apple showcased its dedication to extreme precision by making all the glass just 0.8mm in tolerance. Sedak and Seele had to build a new tempering machine for carving out the building’s window pane and elected to curve the glass through cold bending.
The Ring's interior has large rooms, glass walls, entryways, and wide open spaces that can be collapsed into smaller structures like shared spaces and conference rooms. In the Ring, a hallway divides the saucer into eight identical segments. And while the hallway exists in beautiful intricate loops that may make its length seem shorter than it really is, it stretches up to three-quarters of a mile, end-to-end.
In its commitment to green energy, the Ring is designed to allow natural ventilation and can run for 9 out of 12 months without additional heating or cooling. Apple also partnered with First Solar, a global solar equipment manufacturer, to provide 130MW of clean energy to the campus and surrounding buildings.
A seismic base isolation system was built two stories underground to protect the Ring from mild to moderate earthquakes. The isolation system protects the structure from all but the most severe earthquakes. The base isolation's design is a modified version of those commonly used in Japan's large buildings. The isolation structure comprises 692 steel saucers that run two stories into the ground, creating support and stabilization while allowing some rotational movement of the Ring.
Design vision and Jon Ive
Apple Park is the creation of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and was continued by Apple's former Chief Design Officer, Sir Jonathon Paul Ive, alongside the architectural company Foster and Partners. Apple Park was Ive’s last design project for Apple, and many people consider the campus his “Crown Jewel” – a worthy product that befits his departure from the company. Today, Sir Jonathan Paul Ive runs his own design company, LoveFrom.
One word perhaps best defines Apple Park – flexibility. Apple Park's design is such that open spaces can be redesigned and converted into private offices and conference rooms. In Ive’s words, “There are light wells that go all the way down. You have visual connections to the floors and connections by the stairs. Our building is very configurable and you can very quickly create large open spaces or you can configure lots of smaller private offices. The building will change and it will evolve."
Sir Ive continued, "There are so many connections between floors. There are light wells that go all the way down.”
Steve Jobs had a vision of a campus with dynamic design, just like the dynamic designs of many Apple products. Jobs purchased parcels of land that Hewlett-Packard formally owned. While Steve Jobs presented the Apple Park plan to the Cupertino City Council, he sadly didn't live to see construction begin on the land.
In 2014, Apple began tearing down all Hewlett-Packard buildings and broke ground for Apple Park construction. The project took two years longer than initially planned and went grossly over budget, but in 2017, the project was completed, and Apple relocated its employees to their new workspaces.
As with most huge projects, Apple faced many challenges and criticisms. Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized Apple Park for contributing to suburban sprawl. This is an often politicized term that refers to encroaching on nearby suburban and rural lands by housing or business developments, which often do not consider the need to add extra services, such as transportation, shops, or schools. In the book "Brotopia," Emily Chang criticized the building for its lack of daycare facilities for children. The building also made news when two workers injured themselves and required hospital attention when they walked into the clear glass.
Apple was also at odds with the Santa Clara Fire Department because of the custom signage, which the latter believed would endanger people’s safety in case of fire emergencies. Apple’s dedication to perfection in design when building Apple Park was considered by critics as extravagant. For example, the company required special wood for construction, and the design of the Apple Park door handle was said to be the subject of a year-and-a-half-long debate.
Perhaps more serious were claims that Apple was not paying enough property taxes. The company is required to pay a 1 percent property tax each year on the $4.17 valuation of the building. However, some believe the company should pay more and argue that 1 percent does not offset the damage done to local housing and infrastructure. Apple has repeatedly argued that it should pay less tax. In 2018, the company said some of its headquarters buildings, valued at $1 billion, should be valued at just $200, and has launched more than 489 appeals against its property tax bill since 2004.
Other structures at Apple Park
The Steve Jobs Theater
The theater, dedicated to the founder and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, is a 165-foot diameter circular structure with no visible supports. The structure's roof, weighing 80 tons, is made of a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer and is the largest floating carbon fiber roof in the world. Underneath the glass structure is an underground auditorium that can seat 1,000 people, earning the auditorium a Structural Artistry award. The structure was initially designed to host Apple events. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed the company to adopt online events for several years. The building was, however, used to reveal the iPhone 14 series in 2022.
The Apple Park Visitor Center comprises the 10,000-square-foot Apple Store, a 2,000-square-foot café, an observation deck, and an AR deck. In the AR deck, visitors can experience the totality of Apple Park through an iPad and AR software. The Visitors' Center is the only part of Apple Park accessible to non-Apple employees.
Long before Apple Park came to be, the 100-year-old Glendenning Barn existed on the site — a former apricot, cherry, and plum farm. The other farm structures were long since bulldozed, but the barn remained and is considered a historical landmark. Apple promised to save the barn and restore it. However, since the barn’s location did not fit into the new campus layout, the company carefully dismantled and moved it to a new location near the employee fitness center. Today, it is used for storing groundskeeping tools.
The Googleplex, located in Mountain View, Calif., encapsulates Google’s culture and creative energy. It’s like a college campus with pods, massage parlors, doctors’ offices, and lobbies with pianos. The core features of the Googleplex are the community lifestyle amenities designed to keep employees in the office 24/7.
Google purchased land for the main campus from Silicon Graphics, SGI, a digital firm famous for creating the digital dinosaurs in the popular film "Jurassic Park." The architecture contract was awarded to Clive Wilkison, who designed the workplaces in the complex. Wilkison, a design genius with eccentric taste and inventiveness, designed a building intended to foster team spirit and inclusiveness. His eccentricity can be seen in the fact that he allowed the statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex to stand over the complex.
The Googleplex houses more than 20 buildings, making it easier for non-employees to find their way around with the help of a map. When you walk into the complex, your first feeling is that you are on a university campus — for some reason, the complex architecture is created in a campus-like style, and many Google employees are indeed close to college age.
The Google lobby isn't your typical office lobby. You are greeted by lava lamps, a large computer screen that displays searches in real-time, and a piano on one of the ends of the lobby. As for the real-time search display, a Google algorithm automatically filters out embarrassing and offensive searches.
From its beginning, Google worked to project a culture that fostered interaction and creativity. Clive Wilkinson was charged with creating office spaces that allowed employees to interact while simultaneously reducing distractions and noise. Wilkinson achieved this by dividing a large office space into a cluster of workstations. Each workstation housed three to four employees who worked together. Each employee within the workstation has a workbench and can customize their own space. Workstations are separated by glass walls, allowing light to flow through the whole building. The glass walls also provide ambiance in the office, and some measure of partitioning, so discussions in one cluster won't distract people working in other clusters.
The design helps employees to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other, and in doing so, executives hope that an employee’s idea may become the next big product. Employees can also personalize a workstation with animated wallpapers, toys, and even dogs.
It's argued that the name of Building 42 is an homage to Douglas Adams’ book, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," however, other people argue that the building already had the name when the property still belonged to Silicon Graphics. Building 42 was the first building Google moved its employees to after the Googleplex project completion. Throughout Googleplex, you will find many other buildings with interesting names, like Building Pi.
Google’s culture in Googleplex goes beyond the work-life balance. In fact, it can be argued that Google aims to do away with the need for work-life balance by making work more home-like. The building aims to create a community where employees can get almost everything they need inside the complex so they never have to stop working. Google provides innumerable perks, including free food, games, sleeping pods, beautician stores, and many more facilities.
Let’s explore some of these facilities.
Googleplex employees do not have to buy food, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. There are several cafes spread throughout the complex. The most popular cafe is Charlie's Place, named after Charlie Ayers, Google’s first head chef. Although Ayers left the company about two decades ago, the café still bears his name.
Other cafes include the Pacific Cafe, Café 150, and the No Name Café. More than 200 dishes are served every day in these cafes. There are cafés for vegetarian dishes, sushi, organic food, and healthy meals and snack rooms with candy, juices, pretzels, granola, and other snacks.
With all the free meals and snacks, Google employees may fall victim to a dreaded condition called the Google 15. Similar to the “Freshman 15,” the Google 15 refers to a theory that many Google employees gain 15 pounds during their first year in the company. Google's battle against the Google 15 includes on-campus sports facilities that aim to encourage employees to commit to exercising.
Exercise and healthcare facilities
Exercise facilities in the Googleplex include a gym and narrow swimming pools, where employees can swim against an artificially-created current. Employees can also play ping pong, billiards, video games, and a variety of other table games.
Google has medical facilities in the Googleplex with medical professionals that attend to employees that fall ill within the complex.
Other perks include discounted massage by licensed massage therapists in private rooms with opaque walls, subsidized standard day care services, and laundromats.
The 20% program
While the 20% program is unrelated to Googleplex’s architecture, it's a part of Google's culture of ensuring that employees pursue a range of interests that could help them to find problems the average Google or internet user may face and come up with innovative solutions to combat these problems. The 20% program stipulates that a Google employee can take 20% off their work week at Google to pursue special programs. Google claims many Google Labs products were pet projects from the 20% programs.
Googleplex and Apple Park are innovations that represent each company’s culture. Apple Park represents Apple’s devotion to creating new technologies and renewable energy, just like its smaller products. Googleplex, on the other hand, is an unending cluster of workspaces that fosters interactions and creativity in Google’s workforce. Both strive to foster new ideas and developments.