Apple's spaceship campus: What's the message?

Beam us down, Jobsie

After stringing together record-breaking quarters, bull-rushing the smartphone industry, creating a market-rattling tablet, and earning the title (at least for a little while) as the biggest company in the United States, Apple now has plans to reward itself.

Apple wants to build a futuristic campus in the heart of Silicon Valley. Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs describes the circular building as looking "a little like a spaceship landed."

Apple is already known for game-changing architecture, shaking up the retailer industry with glass-filled Apple Stores around the world. You've already probably seen the immaculate New York Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. Now a Santa Monica Apple Store is apparently in the works.

But the planned Apple campus, dubbed Apple Campus 2, takes architecture to an entirely new level. The four-story campus is expected to hold 12,000 people, span 2.6 million square feet on 150 acres, and be operational by 2015. Jobs presented these plans earlier this summer to a giddy Cupertino city council, which is currently reviewing the plans.

No price tag for the campus was given, but we're guessing Apple can afford it with its $80 billion in cash on hand.

Like any good design, function must follow. The practical reason for the new building is that Apple is "growing like a weed," says Jobs. Apple says the campus will exceed economic, social and environmental sustainability goals.

On the design front, Apple Campus 2 has a shot at becoming an icon of Silicon Valley. "The spaceship concept is clever and indeed a departure from other landmark buildings," says Steve Yamaguma, president and creative director of Design2Market, a long-time Silicon Valley design firm serving tech companies. "It definitely helps define Silicon Valley's 'think different' mantra."

But Yamaguma sees mixed messages with the design. At first, the campus drawings reminded him of the old feudal mentality of a castle and a moat--an image that symbolizes Apple's well-known culture of secrecy and control.

The spaceship analogy, in its simplistic form, is also "a little scary," he says. "A spaceship lands and later takes off into space. It has a sense of being temporary."

"We really need a landmark building that will not only become an icon of Silicon Valley but will be part of the foundation that will sustain our way of life into the future," says Yamaguma, who lives within a stone's throw of the campus.

Either way, Apple's new planned campus ups the game for other rising tech vendors. "I'm very interested in what Facebook will be doing to redesign the old Sun Microsystems campus in Menlo Park," Yamaguma says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com

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Tom Kaneshige

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