When Steve Jobs pitched his blueprint for a futuristic, spaceship-shaped Apple headquarters to Cupertino (Calif.) city officials three months ago, the plan was greeted with near-universal interest/enthusiasm/envy/approval.
I mean, what's not to like about a totally round building that looks like a spaceship? If you thought your average tech geek loved working at Apple before, imagine the geekly orgasms that will ensue as they pass through the circular building's portals!
However, it turns out not everyone is totally down with the Apple spaceship. Check out what Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic at the Los Angeles Time, says about the planned building.
Noting the reverential way in which Jobs and his proposal were greeted by Cupertino city council members, Hawthorne writes, "[H]ad the members of the council been in an even slightly more inquisitive mood, there are a number of questions they might have asked Jobs about the forthcoming building, which will hold 12,000 Apple employees."
A lot of those questions have to do with things only architect-types would be interested in, such as who designed the building (it was Norman Foster of the London firm Foster + Partners, who Hawthorne describes as a "celebrity architect").
But Hawthorne's main concern is that the building is an example of "pastoral capitalism," a term he borrows from Louise Mozingo, an associate professor in the landscape architecture department at UC Berkeley who has a book coming out next month chronicling the evolution of the suburban corporate campus after World War II.
The rise of the corporate estate, she writes, also reflected the Jeffersonian mores of a nation that from its earliest decades loved "to turn its back on cities and stake a claim on the suburban pastoral idyll — isolated, proprietary, verdant, and disengaged from civic space." Those adjectives, of course, perfectly describe the planned Apple headquarters.
And why is that a problem? Hawthorne quotes Mozingo:
"If all you see in your workday are your co-workers and all you see out your window is the green perimeter of your carefully tended property," she writes, and you drive to and from work in the cocoon of your private car, "the notion of a shared responsibility in the collective metropolitan realm is predictably distant."
In other words, this kind of splendid pastoral isolation can spawn a type of corporate solipsism that could cause a company to lose touch with the outside world. Given that the "outside world" consists of customers and competitors, that doesn't bode well for a company's ability to monitor and understand markets or trends.
It's an interesting theory, and one could make an argument that this kind of self-referential mindset has hurt Microsoft, Research in Motion and Nokia, all of whom appear to have fallen out of touch with what consumers want and what competitors are doing.