Saturday, August 20, 2011

What Apple Can Learn From the Pentagon

Apple is known for some of the world's most innovative gizmos, from the original Macintosh computer to the iPhone and the iPad. Now, the tech giant wants to build a hyperspace-age corporate headquarters that will be as groundbreaking as some of its products.
[See where to work if you want a raise.]
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has outlined a plan to build an eye-popping new circular office building in Cupertino, Calif., where Apple is currently based, that will bring together all of its dispersed employees under one shimmery roof. The architectural rendering Jobs released looks like an elevated particle accelerator, with design cues inspired by the spaceship from the 1977 sci-fi flick Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In a way, it's classic Jobs: revolutionary, elegant, and futuristic. He told the Cupertino City Council that the design could end up being "the best office building in the world."
Another Jobs hallmark, of course, is ease of use and simplicity of design, and here, the spaceship design raises bigger questions. If the building does get built and completed by 2015, as Jobs hopes, the people who work there might be disappointed to discover that form trumps function. For its novelty, the Apple design is conceptually similar to another famous building that turned out to be a lot less practical than its planners hoped: the Pentagon.
To the eye, the two designs are strikingly different. The Pentagon, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is rigid, imposing, and fortress-like, with its five exterior angles, drab stonework, and militaristic bearing. The Apple design appears mellifluous and fluid, with gently curved glass and polished steel that looks like it could blind onlookers on a sunny day. But there are many similarities. Both designs are sprawling, low-rise structures meant to spread people out instead of stacking them on top of each other, as in a conventional high-rise. The Pentagon rises five stories off the ground; the Apple spaceship, four. The Pentagon has a leafy interior courtyard, as the Apple building would. The Pentagon houses about 25,000 people in cramped quarters on a typical workday, while Apple's building would be built to accommodate about half that number. But the Apple campus would fill 150 acres, while the Pentagon reservation sits on about 200 acres, and a lot of that is taken up by vast parking lots. So Apple's building could end up with nearly as big a footprint as the Pentagon—presumably, with a far more comfortable interior.
[See 7 ways to sink in a stagnant economy.]
If the Apple project moves forward, as it seems it will, its architects may wish to spend a little time studying the Pentagon. Here are four lessons they might learn:
The workforce better be in great shape. The Pentagon, which opened in 1941, was designed in a hub-and-spoke fashion that would allow workers to walk from one office to another in no more than 10 minutes, with the longest possible walk being about 1,800 feet. At the time, that was considered a highly efficient design, because the longest possible distance between two points would have been even greater if the building had been square or rectangular. The U.S. military, of course, benefits from having the fittest workforce of any organization in America, so there's minimal complaining about all the legwork required to navigate the Pentagon. Still, Pentagon workers who routinely run to and from meetings can spend an hour a day simply commuting from office to office.
Unlike other buildings, where elevators slash the in-building travel time for most workers, the Apple headquarters would require the same kind of horizontal movement as the Pentagon does. Maybe there will be trams or moving walkways, as in airports. Or maybe they'll meet by videoconference instead of traveling long distances between offices. If not, Apple employees could get a daily workout that leaves them huffing and puffing.

No comments:

Post a Comment