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As Apple pursues perfection, new campus frustrates builders and officials

apple spaceship campus 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Apple has long been lauded for its attention to detail and emphasis on build quality and it seems that ambition extends to the construction of its facilities. According to Reuters, the company made numerous demands as it prepares Apple Campus 2, more colloquially referred to as the “spaceship campus,” to ensure a level of craftsmanship more befitting of a phone or watch than a building meant to employ 14,000 workers.

For starters, Apple’s new Cupertino, California, headquarters supposedly boasts the largest panel of curved glass ever made — though that was probably evident from the exterior shots. Inside, Apple has stipulated a lengthy list of requirements.

The ceiling tiles, made of polished concrete, were each examined twice by company representatives to ensure perfection. The door handles, free of imperfections down to the nanometer, according to the construction team, were rejected by Apple in favor of a redesign. All pipes and beams in the ceiling had to be concealed from view, so they would not appear in reflections off the glass.

Even the signage was a source of frustration. The Santa Clara County Fire Department reportedly clashed with the company over designs that emphasized minimalism over function in the event of an emergency. Retired Deputy Fire Chief Dirk Mattern told Reuters the issue came up in 15 different meetings, and that he had “never spent so much time on signage.”

These considerations might be commonplace for a handheld device but for a facility of Campus 2’s scale, they are unheard of. In most buildings, the tolerance that materials are allowed to differ from specific measurements is about 1/8 of an inch. Channeling the iPhone’s seamless panel gaps, Apple mandated far tighter tolerances, even for inconspicuous surfaces.

“You would never design to that level of tolerance on a building,” one architect said. “The doors would jam.”

Speaking of which, Apple was reportedly adamant that the doorways throughout the entire building be perfectly flat, with no thickness around the threshold. If an engineer had to adjust his form to move differently through a doorway, he might become distracted from his work, the company reasoned. One former construction manager said he spent months pushing back on the request, “because that’s time money and stuff that’s never been done before.”

The spaceship campus has been said to evoke many design cues from famous Apple products. Lead architect German de la Torre likened the building’s curves to the rounded rectangle motif the company employs in much of its hardware and software. Other employees compared the elevator controls to the iPhone’s home button.

It may come as little surprise that Skanska USA and DPR Construction, the contractors on the project when it broke ground in 2011, eventually bailed. Experts estimate the facility has cost Apple $5 billion and those close to the project said difficulties with the approval process have nudged completion to the spring.

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