by Tom Kaneshige

Apple’s ‘Spaceship’ Campus Evokes Jobs-Era Perfectionism

Apr 05, 20133 mins
Financial Services IndustryInnovationIT Leadership

Some facts have emerged about Apple's planned "spaceship" campus. Delayed and over-budget but painstakingly detailed, it's already part of Apple history, and makes's Tom Kaneshige nostalgic for Steve Jobs' maniacal focus.

Four months before Steve Jobs died, he was working on a new Apple campus, a four-story circular wonder that “looks a little like a spaceship,” Jobs said. I wrote about this building design potentially becoming an architectural icon of Silicon Valley innovation.

It’s been nearly two years since Jobs presented plans to the Cupertino City Council, so what’s become of Apple’s spaceship?


Not surprisingly, the ambitious campus project has grown even bolder, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. The number of offices has swelled from 6,000 to more than 12,000. It’s already a year behind schedule. Apple’s goal to move in by the end of 2015 has been pushed to 2016.

Then there’s the budget jumping from less than $3 billion to nearly $5 billion. This tops the $3.9 billion being spent on the new World Trade Center in New York. Of course, Apple has more than enough in its coffers to pay the bill – a cash pile that could reach $170 billion by the end of this year.

The most interesting parts of the campus plan, though, are the details that Jobs insisted on. They bring back memories of an Apple whose unwavering eye was trained on product perfection. It wasn’t so long ago when Apple wowed the world with its innovations, yet today those days seem very distant.

Just how much detail are we talking about? Here’s an excerpt from Businessweek’s story:

Rather than cement floors, Jobs wanted to use a stone-infused alternative such as terrazzo, buffed to a sheen normally reserved for museums and high-end residences. Jobs insisted that the tiny gaps where walls and other surfaces come together be no more than 1/32 of an inch across, vs. the typical ? inch in most U.S. construction…

Contractors would typically erect molds with crude scaffolds to pour the cement in place, but that leaves unsightly ruts where the scaffolding puts extra pressure on the surfaces. According to two people who’ve seen the plans, Apple will instead cast the ceilings in molds on the floor and lift them into place, a far more expensive approach that left one person involved in the project speechless.

Slideshow: Apple’s 15 Boldest Computer Designs, 1976 – 2012

All six-square kilometers of curved glass windows will come from a factory in Germany. Walls, floors and ceilings must be polished to a supernatural finish. No visible paintbrush strokes. There are also plans for an underground auditorium and an anechoic chamber for analyzing antenna signals.

Jobs wanted the spaceship campus to be energy self-sufficient, with 700,000 square feet of solar panels generating 8 megawatts, or enough energy to power 4,000 homes. Skylights, energy-efficient airplane propeller-sized fans, and other methods would help achieve a net-zero energy campus.

The inner circle – essentially, a giant courtyard – will be an arborist’s paradise. There will be hundreds of different kinds of trees, including apricot, olive and apple orchards. Any wood inside the building has to be heartwood, that is, wood found in the center of a tree, from a specific type of Maple tree.


Such level of detail reminds us of Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm. It’s ironic that a futuristic spaceship campus still in the early stages of construction is already part of Apple’s storied history.

All of this underscores the challenges Apple faces in a smartphone and tablet market it created, while being out-innovated recently by Google, Samsung, Microsoft, even BlackBerry. Jobs’ ability to envision something wholly new, coupled with his maniacal focus on even the smallest details, is what’s sorely missing under a Tim Cook-led Apple today.