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New glimpses of Apple's 'spaceship' campus

Apple is planning an expansion of its corporate headquarters on a 176-acre plot in Cupertino, California -- a site that was once home to HP and Compaq. This rendering shows the spaceship-like main building, which has 2.8 million square feet and room for 13,000 employees. Apple is planning an expansion of its corporate headquarters on a 176-acre plot in Cupertino, California -- a site that was once home to HP and Compaq. This rendering shows the spaceship-like main building, which has 2.8 million square feet and room for 13,000 employees.
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Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
Apple's space-age future digs
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New images have been released of Apple's future corporate headquarters
  • The jewel of the campus is a spaceship-shaped building that's 2.8 million square feet
  • Apple says the floor plan is designed to promote collaboration, but some are skeptical

(CNN) -- At this point, there's a good chance you've seen pictures of Apple's proposed new headquarters — a 2.8-million-square-foot spaceship parked in a verdant man-made forest in the northeast corner of Cupertino.

Since the first dozen or so renderings trickled out in 2011, however, we haven't gotten a much better sense of what all the new campus will entail or what it will be like to work there.

Until now. Apple may be known for its secrecy, but buried in Cupertino's municipal archive is a wealth of detail on the project — including more than 20 previously unseen renderings of the new campus.

In these images, we see for the first time the space port-like entrance to the development's subterranean parking lot, a cavernous cafeteria that spills into the grassy landscape beyond, and the glass pavilion that will serve as the entrance to Apple's new underground auditorium — a secure lair where press will gather for future product launches.

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In short, these documents give us the most complete picture of Apple's new home yet, a campus that Steve Jobs himself thought had a shot at being "the best office building in the world."

Here's a peek at life in the mothership.

The Mothership

Apple Campus 2, which was approved by city officials last month, will sit on a 176-acre plot in the South Bay city of 60,000 — a site that was once home to HP and Compaq. If you're an Apple employee who drives to work, you'll enter the campus at a freshly constructed security point at North Wolfe Road, on the west edge of the site.

The lucky ones will quickly be diverted into a discrete, futuristic tunnel, where a subterranean service road will give them access to a two-level, 2,000-space parking garage underneath the mothership itself. Otherwise, you'll have to wind your way to the south edge of the campus to the above-ground parking garage — a pair of emory board-shaped structures, clad with solar panels and foliage.

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If you take advantage of Apple's shuttle buses from elsewhere in the Bay Area, you'll be dropped off at the "Corporate Transit Center" on the eastern edge of the site. From there a walkway, flanked by two Apple Store-white staircases, will lead into the mothership itself.

This massive donut of a building is the jewel of the campus. Designed by star architect Norman Foster, whose firm's well-known works include the bullet-shaped Gherkin in London and the restored Reichstag in Berlin, the four-story ring will put 13,000 engineers and designers under a single curving roof.

It won't be the only place you'll find Apple employees on site — a cluster of buildings tucked away at the southern edge of the campus will be reserved for R&D. But the spaceship is definitely the main attraction, and from what we've heard so far it should be no less cutting-edge than any Apple gadget.

In a video Apple presented to Cupertino city officials last month, Stefan Behling, one of the Foster and Partners architects working on the project, summed the building up as "one of the most environmentally sustainable projects on this scale anywhere in the world."

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The plan is for the facility to run entirely on renewable energy, drawing largely from on-site fuel cell plants and rooftop photovoltaic arrays. Natural ventilation and radiant cooling mean that the spaceship won't need air conditioning for some 70 percent of the year. These green efforts are being overseen by Lisa Jackson, a recent addition to the company. If her name's familiar, there's good reason: Jackson headed the EPA for the Obama administration prior to joining Apple as environmental director earlier this year.

The internal arrangement of the office is still something of a mystery, but it's already come in for some skepticism. Some architects have raised doubts about the wisdom of a stubborn circular floor plan at a time where more flexible, reconfigurable workspaces are in vogue.

It's worth comparing Apple's new circular home to the other headquarters Jobs had a hand in designing. As Buzzfeed recently reported, Jobs was heavily involved in the layout of Pixar's campus, a 22-acre plot in Emeryville, California, that the studio has occupied since 2000.

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Most notably, Jobs insisted on a huge, central indoor meeting place known today as The Atrium. Looking at the floor plan for Apple's vast headquarters, it's hard to envision a single similar place where Apple's employees will naturally congregate.

Still, the company insists that the floor plan is designed to promote collaboration. The inner and outer rims of each floor will be left open as walkways, allowing employees to circulate around the ring.

"At one point in the day you may be in offices on one side of the circle and find yourself on the other side later that day," Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's CFO, told the San Jose Mercury News last month. "We found that rectangles or squares or long buildings or buildings with more than four stories would inhibit collaboration...We wanted this to be a walkable building, and that's why we eventually settled on a circle."

There's no doubt, though, that it will be a beautiful place to work. The renderings show a headquarters that borrows from the spartan aesthetic of the retail stores (whether or not they'll actually fly iPod Nano banners, as shown in one of the interior scenes, remains to be seen).

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Employees will enjoy a massive 90,000-square-foot cafeteria carved into a section of the building, from which they'll be able to stroll to the parkland on both the inside and outside of the ring. After that, they can head to the on-site fitness center situated just north of the main building.

Earlier this year, Businessweek offered a glimpse into some of the details of the undertaking, noting "unprecedented" 40-foot floor-to-ceiling panes of concave glass that are being manufactured for the four-story facade.

"There isn't a straight piece of glass in the whole building," Jobs boasted in his initial presentation. The mammoth structure didn't escape Jobs' fanatical attention to the smallest details, either. According to the Businessweek report, Jobs found the industry-standard 1/8 inch breaks between surfaces too unseemly and demanded that the gaps in his new headquarters be no greater than 1/32 inch across.

As Behling, the architect, says in the presentation video, "This project is pushing the boundaries of technology in almost every aspect."

Bringing California back to Cupertino

In the company's own words, the new campus will offer "a serene environment reflecting Apple's brand values of innovation, ease of use and beauty."

Despite the mothership's sustainable credentials, though, the greenest part of the development isn't even the building itself — it's everything surrounding it. The renderings show something that hardly resembles a corporate campus it all. What it is, really, is a huge park.

Apple's proposals describe the future landscape as "an ecologically rich oak savanna reminiscent of the early Santa Clara Valley." Norman Foster says that Jobs wanted the campus to evoke the California of his childhood, one he "still remembered...as the fruit bowl of America." What it all means is that David Muffly, Apple's Senior Arborist, presumably has his hands full (yes, that's his real job title).

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Muffly and the other landscape designers on the job have plotted the site down to the very last tree. Inside the main building, not far from a sizable fountain, workers will enjoy a cluster of Apple trees. Over by the entrance to the cafeteria, you'll find rows of cherries, plums, and apricot trees, with persimmons sprinkled just beyond those. More of the same will be found outside the ring, on the other side of the cafeteria, where employees will be able to dine al fresco in an area Apple's calling "the glade."

A dense perimeter of trees will ring the site, serving as a visual buffer from prying eyes outside. Below the main building, there will be a vast lawn, stretching down to the auditorium and parking decks below. In fact, to make room for this continuous green space, Apple is erasing Pruneridge Avenue off the map entirely (a vestigial nub will remain as an access road for an apartment complex that sits stubbornly next to the site.)

At a recent planning presentation with the city, Dan Whisenhunt, Apple's senior director of real estate and facilities, put this dramatic transformation into numbers. Today, the site is 20 percent landscape — the rest covered by buildings and asphalt. By 2016, when the new Apple campus is complete, it will be 80 percent landscape. Currently, the plot has some 4,500 trees; when Apple is done there will be 7,000.

The idea, Muffly the arborist says, is to "bring California back to Cupertino."

An underground auditorium

The campus won't be exclusively for the enjoyment of its employees. Every few months, a select group of outsiders will be allowed in to visit a separate structure nestled among the wildlife: Apple's new corporate auditorium.

Instead of meeting the press at a venue like the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Tim Cook has said that the intention is to summon reporters to its custom-designed auditorium for all future events. And from the look of things, it will be a nice place to see a product launch.

Instead of a reality distortion field, the new 1,000-seat facility sits underneath an actual one, with a grassy runway leading up to the auditorium's glass entryway. Visitors will enter through this stark glass pavilion — it's topped with a saucer-like roof of its own — and descend into a subterranean theater for the main event.

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The auditorium's design isn't altogether unlike that of the Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City — one that Steve Jobs reportedly sketched himself in its earliest stages. And by all accounts, Jobs was hands-on in the development of the new campus, too. In a presentation video, Foster recalls the genesis of the collaboration, when Jobs called the architect out of the blue one day in 2009.

"Hi Norman, I need some help," Jobs said, and three weeks later they were meeting in person. "One of the most memorable things and perhaps vital to the project was Steve saying, 'Don't think of me as a client, think of me as one of your team,'" Foster says.

As with so many of Apple's products, the unique blend of vision and precise detail won't come cheap. Earlier this year, the Businessweek report put the project's budget at $5 billion and growing. And again, the wisdom of the design is up for debate: there's no telling if the ringed design floor plan will foster collaboration or stifle it.

Still, a stubborn adherence to a singular vision is what gave us trailblazing products like the iPhone and the iPad. Maybe the formula will work for a headquarters, too. As Whisenhunt, the Apple exec, told the Cupertino officials in October, when it comes to the new campus, "You can be sure that, following Steve's lead, we've used the same care and the same meticulous attention to detail we put into every Apple product."

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Copyright 2011 Wired.com.

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