Apple, Amazon and the Wicked Problem

The Atlantic/City of Cupertino

By now you’ve probably heard that Amazon is planning three new office towers in downtown Seattle.  Plans call for more than 13 million square feet of office space, in addition to the 2.7 million square feet that Amazon already leases in the Downtown – South Lake Union area.  Somewhat intriguingly, Clise Properties is “hoping and expecting” that Amazon will eventually buy all 13-acres Clise owns in the Denny Triangle (wishful thinking?).

Looking at the plans, it’s hard not to contrast Amazon’s project with the proposed Apple campus in Cupertino. At 2.65 million square feet, it’s roughly equal to what Amazon already leases between Denny Triangle and South Lake Union. Several blogs have already commented on how Apple’s proposal violates all sorts of urbanist principles, especially when compared to Google’s New York City office or the new Twitter offices in San Francisco.  To be fair, Apple’s proposal is no worse than in urbanist terms than the headquarters of most Silicon Valley titans of its vintage, such as HP, Yahoo!, and Oracle.  Still, when the opportunity arises for one of the world’s most admired companies to completely reconfigure a huge swath of one of the world’s wealthiest ZIP codes, it’s reasonable to expect something more than a re-hash of the classic suburban office park, beautiful as it may be.

If you’re a design nerd like me, you may be familiar with Gary Hustwit’s trilogy of films, HelveticaObjectified, and Urbanized.  One way to think about these films is that they move outward in considering increasingly complex forms of design: graphic design, product design, and finally urban design.  (By “complex,” I mean in terms of the sheer number of people involved.)  Apple products are featured prominently in Objectified, and Apple’s new campus is clearly an effort to create a building that could be featured in that film. But it’s also a paean to a bygone era of suburban sprawl.

Steve Jobs may have been a genius, but he was also – to quote The Big Lebowski – a man for his time and place.  He was born and raised in the postwar Bay Area suburbs, and even became obsessed with the specific style of suburban tract home he grew up in. Thus, the Apple campus represents the apotheosis of a time when we thought of buildings as distinct objects, like iPads. Now we recognize them as part of a complex ecosystem involving streets, sidewalks and transit.  For example, smart building design these days often involves letting the outside world in as much as possible to minimize energy costs. By contrast, Apple’s campus won’t let employees open the windows.  Then again, Jobs was never much interested in complex ecosystems he couldn’t completely control.

It’s no coincidence that Hustwit ended his trilogy with Urbanized.  Urban design is a wicked problem.  This may be why all transit thinkers inevitably come face-to-face with urban design, building design, and even complex systems like education and health care delivery.  It’s impossible to fully consider the city without doing so.

In the meantime, props to Amazon for building densely, in the city, a few blocks from Westlake Station. I won’t assume that they did it for urbanist reasons.  Perhaps the famously frugal Jeff Bezos simply wanted to build fewer expensive underground parking spaces than the 10,000 subterranean spots that Apple has planned for Cupertino.  More likely, Amazon knows that attracting good workers means being close to amenities. Whatever the motive, it represents an encouraging trend in high-tech corporate headquarters away from the sprawl of yore.

Comments

  1. Charles says

    I think it interesting that this design doesn’t conform to the classic campus designs of the era you describe and indeed of the old HP campus this will replace. It is more closed (the single circular building) versus sprawling multiple buildings on a greenscape. It also has interesting environmental innovations not yet commonly integrated into modern office space including massive solar (the entire building is a solar array) and the capability to generate electricity onsite off the grid. Perhaps not carbon neutral, but how does it compare with Amazon’s operations? Well, I guess not a fair comparison because Seattleites are lucky enough to live in a sea of zero GHG electrical production.

    Also, I’ve read that the vast majority of Apple employees do not drive themselves to work.

    Short of using its $100 billion cash horde to purchase the entire city of Cupertino and bulldozing it and erecting a ready made urban dense company city, or moving lock stock and barrel to San Francisco, Apple didn’t have a lot of flexibility. The final thought I have is this will be built more so as the final tribute to its founder. Perhaps in 20 or 30 years, the building will have served its purpose…

    • Andrew Smith says

      Also, I’ve read that the vast majority of Apple employees do not drive themselves to work.

      I call bs on that one.

      Even for Google the majority of employees drive to work, and they are next to a train station and offer buses throughout the bay area.

      • Charles says

        From Apple’s 2009 statement on environment:

        Transportation
        Apple has established commuter transit programs for each facility to minimize the
        environmental impact of home-to-work travel. The Apple U.S. Commute Alternative
        program provides incentives for using public transportation and reducing singleoccupancy vehicles. For example, Apple provides a transit subsidy for all U.S. employees,
        up to $100 USD per month, and encourages carpooling between commute locations. For
        our largest facility, located in Cupertino, California, Apple has reduced single-occupancy
        car usage by providing every employee with several shuttle options, including free bus
        service from train stations as well as bus services from metropolitan areas.
        Each day, up to 600 employees take advantage of our free biodiesel commute buses.
        This has removed over 4 million miles of single-occupant car journeys from U.S. roads
        each year. In addition, many more employees take advantage of Apple’s public
        transportation incentives each year. In fiscal 2008, total emissions for air travel, U.S.
        automobile fleet, and employee commutes were 140,737 metric tonnes CO2e.

        http://www.apple.com/environment/reports/docs/Apple_Facilities_Report_2009.pdf

      • RossB says

        I wonder if Apple will act like Microsoft, in that they will provide excellent public transportation for the employees but do nothing for the contractors who do very similar work?

      • Kellen Donohue says

        Microsoft does provide FlexPasses for contractors right? Granted that’s not as nice as the Commuter buses, but it’s hardly nothing.

      • Don says

        Who said 600 was a majority? The report states that for just one form of transportation alternative offered to employees, 600 use it. That is in addition to bus passes, carpooling and all the other forms mentioned in the report.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I just cited the only germane number in Charles’ quote (or the report, for that matter). If you have a total percentage of employees driving alone to work, I’d love to see it.

      • Aleks says

        I’d believe that the majority of Apple employees *who live in San Francisco* don’t drive themselves to work. But that’s probably a tiny fraction of the total number of employees.

        Certainly, at Microsoft, the numbers bear that our — 80% live on the Eastside, but 75% of people who commute by bus come from Seattle. (Numbers from the website of that guy who got the 545 to deviate to Capitol Hill.)

      • was carless says

        1. Apple has over 60,000 employees
        2. As a former Apple contractor, I was not offered either transit subsidies or even mediocre healthcare.

      • Nathanael says

        Apple absolutely can provide perks to contractors, as can Microsoft….

        ….if those benefits are spelled out in the negotiated contract. (Word to the wise if you’re in a position to actually negotiate a contract with one of these companies — why not make them pay for your health insurance?)

        They won’t qualify for government subsidies on the benefits though, because those only apply to employees.

      • Nathanael says

        Aleks’s citation simply relates to the fact that, in rough-and-ready terms, if your boss can tell you HOW TO DO YOUR JOB, and provides you with the materials to do the job, you are an employee, legally.

  2. Chris I says

    Apple does have options. Their design can include a street grid, denser office buildings, and dense residential on the campus, so company workers can live where they work, car free. It can include leased commercial, so small shops or grocery stores can move in. The piece of property in question has plenty of room for this, so there would be green space left over for parks. This space could be reserved for additional company growth, so it would be a smart move for Apple to do this.

    Even if this plan does not exactly fit Cupertino’s building codes, I’m sure they would change the rules for Apple. They wouldn’t want them to move somewhere else, after all.

    • Chris says

      Ever been to Cupertino? Even if they built a mixed use office/residential campus, you’d still need a car.

      The surrounding area simply wasn’t built for a car-free lifestyle.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Having a car and being all but forced to use a car for everything you do are two very different things.

        Because a city has been built wrong doesn’t mean you have to throw up your hands and give up, espcially when you have the money and power to enact change. Check out this block in Cupertino. Build a few more blocks like this, and you’ll come a long way toward a walkable environment.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Sorry, try this. Sure, it’s awful compared to anything we’d want in Seattle, but it has 8-story offices next to 10-story residential. That’s not a bad start.

      • aw says

        It’s all very auto oriented. I thought it was interesting that the intersection you pinpointed with your first link had a gas station on one quadrant, and a drive up bank opposite. All around there are pedestrian-hostile store frontages with parking lots in front.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Yes. Cupertino, and the entire valley, is awful sprawlled car land. Our region has nothing as bad as this area. I was just pointing out that there are blocks that come close to something walkable, and if a company as big as Apple were to add a few million square feet with an eye to converting downtown to a walkable place, it could be transformed.

      • Andrew Smith says

        Yes. Cupertino, and the entire valley, is awful sprawlled car land. Our region has nothing as bad as this area.

        Palo Alto and San Jose have lots of walkable parts. Santa Clara has a bit, too. Cupertino is like the Bay Area equivalent of Issaquah or Woodinville, and is similarly remote and exurban.

      • Ryan P says

        I grew up in Cupertino, and now live in Seattle. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Cupertino exurban, but you’re not far off. The southwest suburbs (Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos), are probably some of the worst spots for public transit in already-miserable-for-transit Silicon Valley. All of the talk of extending BART to San Jose still puts it ~9 mi from Cupertino.

        The block in question (Stevens Creek & De Anza Blvd) is quite literally the only spot in Cupertino where they’ve allowed development above four stories. I would hardly call it walkable though. That intersection is one of the busiest in Silicon Valley. The closest grocery store is half a mile walk along an 8 lane wide road with cars zipping past at 40 mph. And the transit links are even worse.

        Keep in mind that Apple employees are often not Cupertino residents, and Cupertino residents often are one of the biggest barriers for growth and density in Cupertino. New measures are continuously put up for a vote that try to make it even harder to build anything dense, require larger setbacks from the street, more parking, the usual set of bad anti-density building codes we’re all used to now. Even more problematic new residential is extremely hard to build in Cupertino, Any time a developer wants to build more residential the local community goes into outrage mode because all of the local schools are already well over capacity, combined with a large number of parents wanting to get their kids into Cupertino Schools™. As it stands eight story residential is (barely) tolerated in that block, because on the other side of the De Anza Blvd they would instead be going to an even-more-overcrowded even-more-prestigious high school.

        Those remarkably ugly modernist Eichler homes that Steve Jobs was so fond of are still predominant in at least one neighborhood in Cupertino. My family lived in one for a short while when we first moved to Cupertino too. That neighborhood has onerous zoning regulations limiting height to a single story, requiring large amounts of space between the property edge and the house, and even restricting what kind of siding you’re allowed to have on your house (wooden, no more then 8″ thick, vertical). The residents in that area tend to be some of the loudest anti-density voices in the city, and often are outwardly hostile to any development.

        If Apple were to actually build a dense, urbanist campus, Cupertino would not be the place to do it.

      • Lack Thereof says

        The residents in that area tend to be some of the loudest anti-density voices in the city, and often are outwardly hostile to any development.

        If Apple were to actually build a dense, urbanist campus, Cupertino would not be the place to do it.

        I kind of suspected this was the case. Silicon Valley land use code is quite restrictive, although I don’t know Cupertino’s specific details.

        The zoning in Redmond around the Microsoft campus is similarly restrictive – for office buildings, it’s less than 0.5 FAR, with 2-3 parking spaces per 1000sqft and large setbacks. Which is why the Redmond campus sprawls and MS has to keep a fleet of private taxis and shuttlebuses to circulate employees between buildings.

      • Frank Chiachiere says

        And nobody said it *had* to be in Cupertino. I can absolutely see why they want to stay there, but it would be nice to see them advocate for more progressive land-use changes if they did stay.

      • Weston says

        Think this comment nails it. It is Cupertino! Design can’t solve the problem – only put a little bandaid on a fatal head-wound. This whole discussion should be about how to move Apple HQ to downtown San Jose or San Francisco. (And by proxy should spur conversation on moving Microsoft to Seattle…)

      • Aleks says

        I don’t have a source, but I heard that Microsoft was able to win some concessions from Redmond by threatening to build immediately across the border in Bellevue.

        Whether or not it’s true, their West Campus development is way better than the old main campus. It’s still suburban, but it’s a million times more walkable. (It helps that there’s no surface parking — it’s all underground and centralized.)

  3. Anon says

    To be fair, Apple has never even pretended to be a “green” oriented company, nor one that cared about its workers. In fact, a monolithic building, which doesn’t make sense, other than looking nice, pretty much falls in line with Apple’s practices.

  4. Andrew Smith says

    You nailed it. Apple is an old company owned and run by old guys. Amazon was founded twenty years after Apple, and Twitter came about 30 years after.

    The other interesting thing to note is that Apple employs fewer people in white-collar jobs than Amazon does, so it doesn’t need as much office space. 60% of Apple’s 60,000 employees work in Apple stores while the number is reversed for Amazon’s 56,000 or so employees: 60% work office jobs and another 40% work warehouse/etc jobs.

    • RossB says

      >> Apple is an old company owned and run by old guys.

      Ouch, that hurt. I’ll have to unwind by listening to some tunes on my Walkman.

    • says

      The Apple stores however are located in very walkable places in most cities. The Apple stores in the Bay Area I know of are in Union Square, North Beach, and Walnut Creek

      • Ryan P says

        So are the ones in Silicon Valley. Valley Fair, Oakridge, Stanford Shopping Center. There’s one in downtown Los Gatos and another on University Ave in Palo Alto, but downtown areas in the Silicon Valley suburbs are little more then upscale strip malls of one story developments.

  5. MikeH says

    The Google Corporate HQ in nearby Mountain View, CA is also a sprawling suburban-type campus

    • Adam Parast says

      And the google office in Kirkland. Two story building surrounded by a parking lot, all be it a nicely planted parking lot.

      • JohnS says

        Far better than their Kirkland office. But as befits the neighborhood – and yes, there is still plenty of underground parking in their Fremont space. No idea how many of their employees are solo motorists, but I see Google gear/apparel at the 34th/Fremont stops quite often.

      • johnny says

        Although, I thought I heard Google wants to expand up here, but in Kirkland, not Seattle….So kinda boo on that!

      • Eric says

        Google wants to expand where the talent is. A lot of that talent is at Microsoft and perfectly happy living on the Eastside, so they’ll expand their Kirkland offices as much as necessary to lure in as many good people as they can over there.

        Getty Images recently vacated their building across the street from Google’s Fremont office and moved to the International District. Google leased the whole building, which at least from the outside looks bigger than the one they already had. They’re not just expanding in Kirkland.

  6. Mark Dublin says

    Funny: to me, Apple’s wicked problem was its decision to take advantage of the abused labor provided by an ambitious foreign police state. The Korean War memorial across from the Washington State Capitol ought to be helicoptered to Cupertino and dropped into the middle of the bowl. Or better yet, through the solar panels directly over the executive offices.

    Steve Jobs’ wicked problem was his habit of behaving as if his undoubted talent and personal energy in a particular technical field entitled him to treat other people with disrespect.

    Not the fault of somebody like this when individual people don’t stand up to him. Fatal flaw in a democracy for citizens to deliberately subject their whole communities, let alone cities, states, and the nation, to the goodwill of a single person. Or many times worse, a single corporation.

    Much to like about South Lake Union. Less to like about the thought of what’s going to happen if a single firm goes out of business. Or the thought of what all this firm is in a position to demand as a price of staying.

    I’ve got a favorite espresso place in South Lake Union, and it’s great to have a part of Seattle rejuvenate so fast. But there’s something unhealthy about the place. I’d rather ride streetcars through places less beholden to forces that don’t let anybody but shareholders vote.

    Mark Dublin

    • Gary says

      Amazon is all about “cash flow” and “customer centric” decisions. As for office space, one can only surmise that the deal is because it’s less expensive than the alternative. Amazon does run it’s own fleet of buses, to pick up employees at the ferry etc, maybe by moving closer to Westlake they can drop one of those runs.

      As for Seattle being beholden to one company, for the longest time this place was Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, Pacar, & fishing. Then WaMu. Well fishing is gone, Boeing has spread out over the world, Weyerhaeuser is no longer the dominate business that once was. We can be so lucky that we have Microsoft & Amazon and all the other software companies in the region. It hedges our economic bets.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Companies you mention are lucky to have a place like this to be in- which owes much of its present attraction to previous generations of workers who joined unions, and business people who generously supported public education and public works.

        If Crash of 2008 taught nothing else, it was the trouble with leaving the fate of the Republic to luck. I’ll feel a lot luckier when this region’s economy has some cooperatives in the economic mix, a labor movement healthy enough that workers need no longer be at the mercy of fortune. And fortunes.

        Mark Dublin

    • Charles says

      Same concern can be voiced for a certain Redmond firm who has not had spectacularly good fortune in recent years. They’ve had “good” fortune, just not spectacular and it appears a bevy of young companies are eating their lunch in addition to an old rival. We’re building a multi-billion dollar transit system to their doorstep. What happens if…

      • RossB says

        Good point, Charles. If Amazon leaves (or goes belly up) someone will step in fairly soon. If Microsoft goes belly up, it could get very ugly in Redmond.

    • Anandakos says

      Mark,

      If you want to ride streetcars through places “less beholden to forces that don’t let anybody but shareholders vote” (an estimable desire), you’ll need to consider another country.

      But heck, the capitalist hordes are over-running the other countries too.

      Maybe try another planet, preferably one with vintage PCC’s.

      • Charles says

        I think it is very possible to renegotiate our social contract here in this country. 2008 showed what happens when you have crony capitalism having unbridled reign. The consequence was needless suffering.

        California has launched an initiative to redefine corporate governance such that the needs of other stakeholders such as labor, environment etc. become legitimate factors in corporate management. That is s small step but a good one.

        Cooperatives may indeed be a viable means to wrest economic power away from Wall Street. Washington State has a long history with them and a number of the largest ones in the country reside right here. Recreational Equipment Inc., Group Health Cooperative, Boeing Employees Credit Union to name a few.

  7. Erik G. says

    Will that Apple Campus have shuttle buses to move employees around?

    Because the campus over in Redmond does.

    • Gary says

      You realize that it’s sort of nuts that Microsoft runs it’s own private fleet of buses? They could open it up to even their contractors, or the public and offset some of the cost but nope, employees only.

      I’m not dissing that they need special runs, I’m just complaining that they could run those buses with Metro as “customized runs.” ie. They foot most of the bill, get to pick and choose the routes, but then Metro drives the buses and allows anyone with the fare to ride them. It would be a win/win deal for the region.

      • Bernie says

        Not allowing contractors I don’t understand. I’m guessing it’s a tax issue. As far as general public, no, that would be a bad idea. Once you do that you lose all control over who you can and can’t let on the bus so everyone with an axe to grind could “occupy the bus”. Microsoft employees can often “clock in” as soon as they are on the bus; it’s a place of business.

      • Gary says

        What? If the bus says “Metro” on it, who is going to protest? I mean have you seen an “Occupy Metro” protest anywhere in the country since Rosa Parks?

        That sounds like a ridiculous argument for not letting people ride a bus.

      • Bernie says

        They’re not Metro routes. They’re an enlarged van pool that goes from somewhere to only one place only during commute hours. They’re also reserved seating. Totally different animal. They don’t contract with Metro because that would cost them way more per service hour.

      • Gary says

        “They don’t contract with Metro because that would cost them way more per service hour.”

        Is it that they are paying lower wages?

        “They’re an enlarged van pool that goes from somewhere to only one place only during commute hours.”
        Well I see the buses running all day long around where I work. So I assume that they run more of them during commute hours but they actually run some of them all day long.

        As for going only to one place, I bet they go to all of their offices, not all of them are at the Redmond campus.

      • Bernie says

        Yes, they run employees between buildings and campus on demand. And yes, the drivers are non-union and that keeps costs down. I think it’s the same company CT contracts with for Express Bus service. In the case of Microsoft the company handles all of the leasing of equipment; something Metro as a public agency can not do.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        The Connector runs during commute hours only, is ostensibly reserved seating, and operates routes all over the region, be it Queen Anne or Duvall. It’s contracted out to MV Transportation.

        Microsoft also operates shuttles all-day on-demand on its campus as well as to the token Seattle office in South Lake Union. I’m not sure if it’s contracted out or not.

      • Bernie says

        Yeah, same contractor. The long haul big buses are the Connector and I think the shuttles of various size from Prius to Cut-away van are called something like Microsoft Connect. Same paint scheme but they are like an on demand private taxi service. They also haul around people besides direct employees; vendors, potential customers and new recruits.

      • Frank Chiachiere says

        You realize that it’s sort of nuts that Microsoft runs it’s own private fleet of buses?

        +1

      • Aleks says

        The shuttles are available to contractors (or anyone, really). It’s only the Connector that is reserved for employees.

        The reason for restricting the benefits has to do with this lawsuit. Because of that, contractors have many, many restrictions, one of the most notable being that when a contractor’s contract ends, they cannot get another one for 100 days. All of these restrictions are designed to ensure that there will never be any ambiguity as to whether a contractor is being treated as an employee.

        Microsoft tried to pay Metro to run special peak runs, but Metro refused. So that one is all Metro. In fairness, Microsoft can probably provide the services for much cheaper — the shuttle vehicles are actually used for low-demand intra-campus trips during work hours, which would definitely not be worth it for Metro to run.

        The arguments about “clocking in” are mostly BS. For almost all employees, all that matters is that you show up to meetings and get your work done; no one is keeping track of your hours. It’s true that you can talk freely about private topics on the Connector, but honestly, people don’t hold their tongue on the 545 either. About the only advantages of the Connector on that count are that you’re guaranteed a seat and wi-fi.

        Yes, it’s nuts that Microsoft has to do all this, but they’re doing the best they can given the campus they have.

    • Cascadian says

      It’s actually so big that expecting people to walk to offices on the other side of the same building doesn’t work. So people will have to take a shuttle to their own building (though I don’t see a road–probably there’s a perimeter lane underground circling the parking), or use a fleet of Segways or something.

      The whole thing is just a really bad idea.

      • d.p. says

        It’s basically designed like an airport. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re expecting to include some sore of airport-style people-mover within.

      • asdf says

        Some observations about the Microsoft campus for someone who works there:
        1) Surveys show that about 1/3 of employees commute to work by some means other than driving alone (remarkably high for its suburban setting). Curiously, 1/3 is also the proportion of the spaces in the parking garages that are empty every weekday. This is not a coincidence. It’s a direct consequences of the fact that the law says you have to provide a parking space for every employee, even though only 2/3 of employees actually consume a parking space.

        2) For those willing to walk, the campus isn’t nearly as sprawly as it superficially appears. Most buildings are within a half-mile, or at most a mile, from most other buildings, and the few exceptions to this are easily accessible via Microsoft’s shuttle services when you really need to go there. The campus itself is also pretty walkable. All the streets have pretty wide sidewalks, and on the main roads, there is often landscaping between the sidewalk and the street, plus frequent crosswalks so walking from building to building doesn’t involve long detours. There are also several off-street walking paths and Microsoft is currently in the process of building more. The huge barrier of getting across 520 is a lot less of a deal now than it was before, since the new bridge got completed in 2010.

        Some may say a 1000-5000 feet from the main transit stop to your building is too far to walk. However, you have to remember that most Microsoft jobs involve sitting behind a desk all day. So a little bit of moderate physical activity getting to work and back, I consider a good thing. And for those that can’t or are too lazy to walk, yes, there are shuttles.

  8. wave says

    I have a similar problem with the new Gates Foundation campus across the street from the Seattle Center. While it’s nice to have that employment base located in a close-in urban neighborhood as opposed to the burbs, I HATE the design of the campus. It looks to me like the Gates Foundation people (who I assume are a bunch of former Microsofties, but maybe I’m wrong) only know how to build one kind of building — suburban office parks. So, instead of seizing the opportunity to introduce some good urban design (i.e., street level retail, broken up building facade, etc), they just plopped down a suburban office park. I applaud them for locating where they did, but I boo them for the building design.

    • Bernie says

      I suppose you think the UW Campus should start renting out ground floor retail too? And free on street parking. It’s really not very walkable being all spread out and it’s got no nightlife to speak of.

      • Gary says

        Well it’s not like the employees all have their dry cleaning done by the foundation, or eat lunch at the foundation cafeteria, or bank with the foundation, or have their bicycles repaired, or cars or shop in the company store.

        There are plenty of advantages to the employees of the foundation by having ground level retail convenient to their place of employment. Same for retailers on the ground floor where there are lots of employed people.

      • Mickymse says

        I don’t understand this response, Bernie… Obviously, the UW campus has retail on and next to it, work/study and entertainment destinations on and next to it, and plenty of students who live on or next to it.

        Maybe some folks on here would like to see 100-story towers on the campus ;-p but it does a pretty great job of providing everything many people need within walking distance.

      • Bernie says

        Obviously, the UW campus has retail on and next to it, work/study and entertainment destinations on and next to it, and plenty of students who live on or next to it.

        And so does the Gates Foundation. It was built as a campus for people to get away from everyday life and solve problems like world hunger. Forget about your dry cleaning; there’s probably one right on your way home. They don’t want Bob’s Beer and Burritos bringing in the lunch time crowd from SLU. It’s deliberately designed as a campus and not a hip place for the general public.

      • Weston says

        I think the UW should absolutely do this. They have a beautiful, pedestrian oriented space adjacent to density.

      • Aleks says

        Actually, compared to real urban universities like BU or NYU, UW’s campus is surprisingly non-urban.

        Not every building needs ground floor retail. But the best city universities are *urban* universities, and UW is not.

    • MikeP says

      Especially when the “green” icon of said design is their parking garage! I live in Southern California now and I laugh until I cry every time I hear some company patting themselves on the back for their new solar powered parking facility. They need to have some hipster explain irony to them.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        If that’s one better, I can do a few dozen better. I was on a project where we were designing 7,500sf “second home” condos built on manmade islands (built from sand dredged from the sea floor) in a climate with a 116 degree F design day and powered by electricity from diesel generators on a seperate utility island. And it was required by law to meet LEED Silver. That’s one project I’m not sad ended up on a shelf (though they did complete the islands).

        I actually don’t mind green goals added to these brown projects. It’s not like they wouldn’t build gas stations, car rental facilities, or luxury condos if they weren’t LEED rated – they’d just use even more energy.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Well they undertook the building of this facility even though they didn’t lack for space in their giant existing parking garage, all while insisting that the new light rail station be built on the other side of that garage, away from the terminal. Plus this new facility is on the other side of the “Airport Expressway,” so visitors will get there on – wait for it – shuttle buses!

    • Steve M says

      I doubt the Gates Foundation is staffed by former Microsofties, except maybe at the executive level. Most of the work they do in global health calls for totally different training and a generally different mindset.

      That said, I agree that the Gates Foundation campus is more of an office park than it should be. Though it’s not like that area is all that conducive to street retail, either.

      • RossB says

        Why isn’t the area conducive to street retail? Is it that the area is cut off by busy streets? If so, can’t they try to get the city to build more pedestrian bridges (which would help the street retail and the employees that want to wander around the neighborhood)?

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        While the Uptown Triangle isn’t terribly pedestrian-oriented today, the vacation of Broad Street as part of the Mercer West project as well as the reconnection of the street grid across Aurora as part of the DBT will mean that area could become quite walkable in the next decade or so. The building across the street where the QFC is has a nice street presence.

  9. James says

    So why build in Cupertino? The Bay Area has plenty of very urban environments: San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Downtown San Jose, even other suburbs like Palo Alto, Mountain View, etc have more urban infrastructure than Cupertino.

    • Charles says

      It appears to be personal to Steve Jobs. Why is Microsoft in the Seattle area and not New Mexico?

      • RossB says

        I’m sure it was personal, but (greater) Seattle makes sense because there are more students than New Mexico. I personally think locating in Redmond was a bad idea, but they managed to succeed anyway. Once they did, they’ve managed to keep up the momentum. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if some business analyst determined that they would have an easier time recruiting people if they were in Seattle proper. I don’t think it is a coincidence that you can walk from Amazon to downtown or (with a little more effort) to the UW.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if some business analyst determined that they would have an easier time recruiting people if they were in Seattle proper.

        The young folks already tell them as much. But the 3000-sqft-in-Duvall management types don’t want to hear it.

      • Erik G. says

        The world was a different place in 1975 or whenever it was that the first building in Redmond opened. Remember, Bill Gates’ was living in Laurelhurst with his parents and the 520 was an easy corridor to access.

      • Gary says

        Ah in ’86 or whenever it was that Microsoft moved from Bellevue over by Burger Master to Redmond, downtown Seattle sort of sucked. At that time they could have moved to downtown Bellevue, built an office tower or three and essentially remade downtown Bellevue to their own liking.

        Ironically the property they are on now was once planned to be a shopping mall, but it was turned down because it would generate too much traffic. Of course now that area is traffic h*ll. Although the new freeway exit has helped a lot as does all those connector buses.

      • Bernie says

        I suspect Charles knows that Allen and Gates originally formed the company in New Mexico. They moved back to the NW making a home in Bellevue for a while but Bellevue didn’t treat them as nice so shortly after DOS was born (1980) they moved out to Redmond. There were several large aerospace/defense companies with engineering and manufacturing space along 148th. And I think Nintendo America has been there almost as long as Microsoft. Overlake was conceived to be a mall but the developer couldn’t acquire a large enough chuck of land so Crossroads was built instead.

      • james says

        First of all, some of the places I am talking about are less than 15 minutes from Cupertino. It’s nothing like Seattle to New Mexico.

        Second of all, Steve Jobs grew up in Palo Alto, not Cupertino, so why would Cupertino be more personal to him?

      • Charles says

        Are you aware that Microsoft has offices in the SLU and you see Connector buses going around there often?

      • Ryan P says

        Steve Jobs lived in Palo Alto as an adult. He (and Woz) grew up in Cupertino and went to Homestead High School (in Cupertino). I had teachers in both High School and at Community College that had Jobs and Woz in their classes at one point or another. He had roots in Cupertino.

      • Aleks says

        They have one building (Westlake & Terry), and no product teams are based there. Contrast with Bellevue, where Microsoft is the lead tenant in three office towers, and an entire division is based there. Microsoft does not have a meaningful Seattle presence.

  10. says

    Twitter blackmailed SF into a cash giveaway, and the people who run the company wanted to live in SF instead of the sticks — does that deserve a Nobel Prize?

    And the film Urbanized glorifies Bogota’s former mayor and his decrepit Transmilenio bus system — which has finally collapsed among riotous violence — after years of not being able to move the city, fueling new car sales in Bogota to the tune of 100,000+ cars per year every year Transmilenio has existed. Should we listen to Mr. Hustwit?

    • Gary says

      Putting your company in downtown SF may be a decision they won’t live to regret.

      http://www.amazon.com/Crack-Edge-World-California-Earthquake/dp/B000PD3MH0

      In 1906 SF moved North 23 ft in 3 minutes. The San Andres fault hasn’t moved in SF since, but it’s moving in the middle about a 1/2″ a year. That means it’s already 19ft out of alignment. When it goes, I expect the water mains to again fracture and a fire to break out that no one will be able to put out until it runs out of fuel.

    • Miles Bader says

      Heh, I was annoyed that Urbanized left out places like Tokyo (with some super hand-wavey justification) in favor of cities that work much less well…

      ["Oh, we want to discuss urban design issues; let's talk about cities that suck!" wtf...]

    • Frank Chiachiere says

      Hey Peter, I think Hustwit’s films, especially Urbanized, are flawed, which I pointed out in my review of the film here. I mention the films simply as a convenient way to talk about different levels of complexity in design. I thought it was a worthwhile analogy because Apple is featured so prominently in Objectified.

      I don’t want to give Twitter the Nobel, but I do think it was the right move. Having a wage tax in the city is a bad idea unless it covers an entire metro area, otherwise it just makes businesses decamp for the ‘burbs.

    • Mike Orr says

      “the people who run the company wanted to live in SF instead of the sticks”

      That’s exactly why there should be more walkable places like San Francisco in Silicon Valley, so you don’t have to choose between working for those companies, a home in a walkable neighborhood with good transit, and a 50-mile commute. If people want to or have to live in the burbs, bring the TOD to them. You can’t expect them all to live in San Franscisco or Seattle, or take only jobs located in those cities. Of course, it really doesn’t help when cities like Cupertino, Santa Clara, and San Jose are so walkability-hostile.

  11. says

    To me, it seems hypocritical of both Amazon and Apple, the former promoting a pervasive Cloud vision as its future, and the latter promoting a mobile device vision to then choose centralized 19th and 20th century architectures as their signature.

    It’s like Microsoft choosing to built a data center for an IBM 390 as representative of their technology, or Boeing building a train station.

    If they really believe in what they are selling — Amazon selling a cloud service that can provide services seamlessly no matter where you are — and Apple, showing what lightweight, mobile electronics can change the workforce…then they would not be building either of these monstrosities.

    • Charles says

      People to a greater extent than electrons flourish when in close proximity. There is a reason that telecommuting hasn’t taken over as the business model of the future. At the same time, for Amazon, there’s probably very little onsite server capability in those millions of square feet of office space. Just robust network infrastructure.

      • says

        So you’re saying building centralized headquarters makes more sense to you than the products they sell which can enable non-centralized dispersed business relationships.

        Therefore — you’re saying these organizations make no sense at all (?)

      • Matt Gangemi says

        I don’t think they sell products that keep us from interacting face-to-face with other humans. The Internet is best used not as a replacement of real life, but an enhancement to it.

        Besides, the argument is specious to start with. Should GM get rid of cubicles and install desks in their employees’ cars? Should Alaska Airlines give up their corporate office and install desks in airplanes?

      • says

        Well based on the arguments here, Amazon would be completely replaced by one centralized vertical store (aka Macy’s circa 1934).

        People would take a tram 50 yards from their 100 story condo, using their All-Pass card and bring it home, stopping for an espresso at the one cafe located at ground level between them.

        And your analogies aren’t equivalent to mine. GM wouldn’t put a desk in their cars — they would of course want people to use their cars, their business, to drive from home to work. Same with Alaska Air…they would encourage people to disperse and use regional air travel to optimize their business structures as much as possible.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Why? Other than the very small increase in sales, paid for from their own pockets, why would either of those business models be more useful to those two companies than to other companies? Just because a company makes typewriters doesn’t change the fact that it’s more efficient for them to use a computer for their correspondence.

      • says

        I guess it seems like these companies aren’t willing to “eat their own dogfood”.

        Sure, for their customers, they want to see a Cloud-Mobile-Social Media paradigm, but when it comes to their own employees, they want to lock them away into a 100-story vertical urbist prison.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        You sure hate the city. I see being able to walk to food, shopping, coffee, etc. is much, much less of a prison than an office park in Kent where you have to walk just to get to your car then drive then park then walk to get to a store.

        How is the “Cloud-Mobile-Social Media paradigm” at all inconsistant with they physical closeness of an urban building? You don’t throw out your hammer just because you bought a screwdriver. Both concepts work great together.

      • Charles says

        Well no John, Amazon sells network based infrastructure to free companies from having to build and maintain it themselves. It also allows companies including themselves to quickly and quite inexpensively configure their office space because you no longer have to consider server room infrastructure.

        Amazon has decided for their business that people in offices works for them rather than the tele-commute model. Another business might choose differently. Amazon’s products support either model.

    • Charles says

      It was both fascinating and painful to watch this again. The obsequiousness of the council in their questions to Mr. Jobs and his having to “humor” them in his responses was rather painful.

  12. Rob K says

    Apple’s design comes straight out of utopian urban planning from 100+ years ago. All they need is a monorail ringing it underground and some farmland and it’s some commune version of the Linear City. (search for “Roadtown” by Chambless)

    Amazon doesn’t have a design yet, but the idea to build towers in an urban core next to a major transit hub is a model that has proven successful over the last century.

    • Gary says

      Amazon’s choice to build in the SLU area isn’t a bad one either. Although in 20/20 hindsight they should have bought the WaMu building after the collapse of WaMu. It went for a song. However, with Amazon’s growth curve they would need another tower or two. At least by being in SLU, they are “close enough” to the major transit center of Westlake. And since as the other poster pointed out, a short walk to work is probably healthy for a bunch of desk jockeys.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        It’s also been good planning that they’ve been able to keep most of their offices so close together. A Googlite hopping back and forth across the lake for a meeting is inefficient. An Amazonian walking two blocks to a meeting saves that employee time and boosts her productivity.

      • Bernie says

        I don’t know the inner workings of Google. How often do employees in Kirkland have to travel across the lake for meetings in Fremont? Google is a diverse business. I doubt the folks working on search engine code have to collaborate so closely with Android developers that they need much face to face time. Google is widely dispersed nationally and globally. I would guess that’s in part to glean “local knowledge” like Google Maps and advertising accounts. Another good reason is to assure continuity in case of a natural disaster like an earthquake, flooding or hurricane. That’s one of the main reasons Boeing has duplicate lines in various geographic locations; internal second sourcing so to speak.

      • Jeremy says

        Amazon used to run shuttle services between the previous disparate buildings (at no small expense, plus the usual wasted time moving humans hither and yon), so a unified campus saves them that money, among other advantages (the US1/US2 buildings (the buildings next to Uwajimaya) had rules that disallowed bicycles inside them, lackluster on-site shower and bicycle facilities (limited, and only in US1), no dogs allowed, etc). Plus the leases were coming up on the previous sites, as I recall.

        “NEWS” can stand for “Not Everyone Works in Seattle,” and is a testament to the various problems of timezones (“meeting will be at 2:00″) and difficulties keeping remote support offices in sync with the developers in Seattle. It is very difficult to transfer knowledge to remote timezones if the developers are a) asleep most of the relative workday or b) hiding from humans to get work done (a rare useful use of telecommuting). Remote offices utterly lack the ability to corner someone and hash things out on a whiteboard (technology is easy to ignore, angry support engineers massing near a development group not so much), and make it awkward to schedule and communicate for the multiple hours necessary to understand the complexities of a new service.

  13. Bernie says

    Amazon lays out design proposals for Denny Triangle complex

    The scale of this proposal is really amazing. I doubt they will need their current leased space once all three towers are finished. To put it in perspective, this will house approximatly 20% of their entire worldwide workforce. Their previous iconic headquarters, the PacMed building has only 274,000 sq-ft of leasealbe space. As for density all 13 acres is less than a tenth of what the Apple Lifesaver sits on. About a third of the planned 36 acre Spring District in Bel-Red which is only projected to have 4 million sq-ft of office space when built out. The entire downtown Bellevue office space is only 9 million sq-ft.

Sign in or create an account to save your credentials and make commenting faster.



You may want to read our comment policy.