Last week, Google released an illustration of its next corporate campus, a complex of nine rectangular buildings, mostly adorned with green roofs, and all connected by a series of elevated walkways. The illustration is filled with people using the campus’s open spaces—dining on one of the rooftops, strolling down the wooden paths around the perimeter, and even participating in an outdoor yoga class.
As it happens, Apple is also planning a new campus in Silicon Valley, and the design couldn’t be more different. It’s a single, circular structure that people have described as a doughnut or the touchwheel of an iPod and that Steve Jobs once likened to a spaceship. It’s simple and symmetrical, the roof is black (not green), and the renderings all show people doing things near the building, instead of on top of of it.
These distinct approaches speak volumes about the two very different tech giants behind them. Quartz spoke with an architecture professor and expert on workplace design, Brian Schermer of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, about the two buildings and what they represent. His quotes are in italics, and some of them have been condensed. Renderings are courtesy of Apple and architecture firm NBBJ (for Google).
Architecture as a reflection of the company
Brian Schermer: Google’s business is somewhat sprawling and disheveled. They started off with search, and now they are getting into hardware, like Pixel and Google Glass. Similarly, their next campus is a thicket of ideas and places to be.
Apple’s is an architecture that [one] is meant to behold. The company is shooting for timeless beauty.
Style as a recruiting tool
Schermer sees Apple and Google as two corporate giants competing for the brightest engineers and designers in the world. He thinks they each made their architectural design choices with the intention of attracting slightly different kinds of employees.
Schermer: The Google vision is perhaps to recruit people who are attracted to the serendipity of messiness.
Apple is very tightly controlled. Maybe the Apple employee is somebody who’s attracted to that pure, shared vision—the Jony Ive aesthetic.
The buildings as work spaces
Architecture can be a very abstract language, but Google is wearing its heart on its sleeve. It’s trying to say that you can really inhabit this space.
Apple is more inscrutable. We don’t see the interiors. I have no idea how Apple would organize the building into different work groups.
What the renderings themselves say
With Google, we get immersed in the details. It’s hard to comprehend the structure of it. It’s like they were thinking: Let’s just invite people into the environment. It’s an architecture that’s meant to be explored.
Apple’s renderings are almost like an Andrew Wyeth painting, with the figure in the foreground, in the grass. There’s an aspiration to the Apple headquarters. It really is trying to be a work of art.