Thoughts On The Apple Mothership: Celebration of the Employee

Drone footage shows nearly complete main building at Apple Park campus

Steven Levy has written a stellar article at Wired about his tour of the new Apple campus, Apple Park, aka The Mothership. The focus is on the design details inspired by Steve Jobs and the building as “Steve’s gift.” I read the article and have some follow-on thoughts to offer.

The article is:

The story is tightly focused on key elements of the design of the giant ring, inspired and motivated by Steve Jobs and how the building plan was executed. Not every detail was covered because, after all, it’s modest in length—a tightly focused, lively and inspirational article.

Apple Park, Apple's new San Jose headquarters, opens in April 2017
The Apple Mothership.

Some of the details that I’m interested in didn’t make the cut. Such as the use and storage of electrical power from about 17 megawatts of solar power. Or how many kilometers of optic fifer were installed. Or how many OC-192 lines are deployed. Those are details for the future.

Instead, the thing that jumped out at me is how much ferver Steve Jobs had for creating an environment for employees to think, collaborate and work. The building is specifically designed to put employees in touch with nature and in touch with each other.

It’s an astonishing notion, the celebration of 12,000 employees, all of whom are inspired by a dedication to doing something worthwhile with fanatic attention to perfection and taste. To keep changing the world for the better.

The No-employee Company

This obsession with creating a workplace that celebrates and nurtures the employee flies in the face of much current thinking. In some cases, executives fantasize about cutting back own employees so severely that they can roll not just some but all of the revenues up to themselves.

Other businessmen believe in creating a healthy, productive place for their employees because they recognize that the right kind of people, working in concert, can do amazing things. Mr. Jobs learned that at Apple, NeXT, Pixar, and then again at Apple. Just watch the credits at the end of any movie. It requires a constellation of people to create 120 minutes of awesome.

We also hear about how artificial intelligence agents will put most people out of work. It’s an interesting proposition to ponder, but the fact is, nothing today can beat the collective efforts of thousands of very smart, talented people working side by side under great leadership.

Designing for the Future

Author Levy, for literary effect and contrast, included some idle criticism of the Apple Mothership.

Apple Park is not prepared to adapt to potential changes in how, where, and why people work. That there is no childcare center. ‘It’s an obsolete model that doesn’t address the work conditions of the future,’ says Louise Mozingo, an urban design professor at UC Berkeley.

That criticism seems to reflect the way some modern businessmen are thinking about average employees. The vision of Mr. Jobs was in great contrast. Mr. Jobs understood how teams of people could rise to enormous accomplishments and how the success of a storied corporation depends on them.

If the design and inspirational architecture of this building achieves that end and propels Apple into brilliance for the rest of the century, the faith Mr. Jobs had in the individual employee will be vindicated. Now it’s the privilege of Mr. Tim Cook and his successors to carry on that tradition.

Whether the Apple Mothership is our last best hope for passionate, driven, talented humans to be celebrated for their collective achievements remains to be seen. For now, my bet is on the humans.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts On The Apple Mothership: Celebration of the Employee

  • Are we sure there’s no child care center? Or is there no separate outparcel building for a child care center? I’m sure they could integrate one into one of the pre-built pods.

  • Thanks again for another good article, John.

    I have visited One Infinite Loop on a number of occasions going back to the mid-90’s. I fully intend to visit Apple Park – probably next year (the visitor center isn’t close to being done based on the numerous drone videos). Apple Park looks like an amazing place to work.

    However … I do have to say that the omission of a child care center is quite surprising to me, especially given the fact that the site includes amenities like a multi-million dollar fitness center. Apple says that want a more diverse work force (and I believe them). It might be a little easier to attract women to work for you (something Apple really needs to improve on and I think they’d admit that themselves) if you provided onsite child care. I’m not saying *free* onsite child care, BTW …

    Old UNIX Guy

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