The science and design behind Apple's innovation-obsessed new workspace

The Apple Campus 2 is seen under construction in Cupertino, California in this aerial photo taken January 13, 2017.
Noah Berger | Reuters

Apple announced a wide range of new products this week, but the backdrop for the launch may be its most exciting innovation of the year: Apple's new campus, known as Apple Park.

Once derided as a "retrograde cocoon," the facility was designed with painstaking attention to detail to maximize opportunities for creativity and collaboration and to capture founder Steve Jobs' complex vision for the space.

Apple Park covers 2.8 million square feet, accommodates 12,000 employees and cost approximately $5 billion to build. The facility, designed by architecture firm Foster + Partners, includes a fitness center, an energy plant and acres of apricot orchards. The ring-shaped building has been compared to a spaceship and the Pentagon.

Every detail has been carefully scrutinized, creating an end product that Apple hopes will foster even greater innovation.

The Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park
Courtesy of Apple

A democratic workspace

One of the most distinct aspects of Apple's new headquarters is that it will house 12,000 employees in one structure. Fitting that many people in one building is a logistical hurdle that Apple believes will encourage collaboration between workers and between departments. Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief design officer tells Wired that the greatest achievement of the campus is that it is "a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk."

It's hoped that by housing so many employees in one facility, workers will be more likely to build relationships with those outside of their team, share ideas with co-workers with different specialties and learn about opportunities to collaborate.

The building will be divided into modular sections, known as pods, that will be used for office work, teamwork and social activities. Everyone from the CEO to summer interns will be placed into these pods, helping employees build connections and discover mentorship opportunities.

Wired reports:

As with any Apple product, its shape would be determined by its function. This would be a workplace where people were open to each other and open to nature, and the key to that would be modular sections, known as pods, for work or collaboration. Jobs' idea was to repeat those pods over and over: pod for office work, pod for teamwork, pod for socializing, like a piano roll playing a Philip Glass composition.

They would be distributed democratically. Not even the CEO would get a suite or a similar incongruity. And while the company has long been notorious for internal secrecy, compartmentalizing its projects on a need-to-know basis, Jobs seemed to be proposing a more porous structure where ideas would be more freely shared across common spaces.

Scott Lesizza, founding principal at interior design firm Workwell Partners, says that a completely uniform design does not work for every company. "Nowadays, unfortunately, a lot of organizations look for a one-size-fits-all, but it really depends on what the organization does and also what their culture is," he tells CNBC Make It. "I think the best spaces enable different types of personalities and different types of work styles to work under the same roof."

Sometimes this means designing different work spaces for different types of teams. He explains that the needs of an engineering team are entirely different from the needs of a marketing team. "You can have a cutting edge company but two groups that work in completely different styles," says Lesizza. Apple Park's pods may be a good way to provide flexible space for different types of work.

The pods may also help the company adjust to technological advancements even as it's driving them. "What we recommend to clients is to make their spaces future-proof," says Lesizza. "By that I mean to build out, to furnish, to design their spaces so that just about every space ... can be used for different functions so they never become antiquated and they never become out of style."

The California landscape as inspiration

Apple's nature-forward approach to the campus's design may sound like good PR, but science supports it. Studies suggest that spending time outside can improve cognition and creative thinking. Fittingly, Apple Park includes 6,000 trees and 5.9 million square feet of landscaping. A green courtyard in the middle of the facility will allow employees to walk through nature as they cut across campus.

In a press release, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "The workspaces and parklands are designed to inspire our team as well as benefit the environment. We've achieved one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy."

Cook explained that Apple's late founder Steve Jobs had been inspired by the Californian environment and that the company hopes that this eco-friendly setting will help spur the company's next generation of breakthroughs. "Steve was exhilarated, and inspired, by the California landscape, by its light and its expansiveness," he said. "It was his favorite setting for thought. Apple Park captures his spirit uncannily well."

'Creating an icon'

While the building's structure does have its benefits, it also has drawbacks. Louise Mozingo, professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at U.C. Berkeley tells Reuters that the ring structure will make the new campus difficult to navigate and inefficient.

"It's not about maximizing the productivity of the office space, it's about creating a symbolic center for this global company," she says. "They are creating an icon."

And creating this kind of architectural jewel was staggeringly expensive. It cost Apple $160 million to buy the land and $5 billion to construct the buildings. Each of the 1,000 seats in the Steve Jobs Theater reportedly cost $14,000.

Apple Park
Courtesy of Apple

Preserving Steve Jobs' vision

Many of the more expensive aspects of the campus were insisted upon by Jobs, who would hold five-hour-long meetings about the project even during his fight against cancer.

Stefan Behling, one of the architects working on Apple Park tells Wired, "He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just 'I like oak' or 'I like maple.' He knew it had to be quarter-­cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content. We were all sitting there, architects with gray hair, going, 'Holy s--t!'"

Before passing in 2011, Jobs admitted that his was not the most cost-effective approach. But ultimately, he believed that the future benefits would outweigh the cost. "I think the overall feeling of the place is going to be a zillion times better," he said.

When Jobs ran Pixar, reports Wired, he was similarly involved in the design of its headquarters. At Pixar, Jobs famously tried to increase collaboration by forcing employees to walk long distances to find the nearest bathroom. He was so hands-on that Pixar employees call the headquarters "Steve's Movie."

If the results are anything like Pixar's, Apple Park is sure to be a success. "Steve's theory worked from day one," corporate design blog Office Snapshots reports John Lasseter, Pixar's chief creative officer, saying. "I've never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one."

By combining science-driven design choices with inspired aesthetic decisions, the Apple Park could be set to become one of the company's most exciting products yet.

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