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Commentary: Apple Park and the trouble with modern workplaces

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LONDON: The iPhone X was the focus of Apple's launch event on Tuesday, but the venue was equally alluring. Chief executive Tim Cook unveiled the device in the Steve Jobs theatre, a sleek auditorium at Apple Park, its new head office in Cupertino.

Apple Park, a US$5 billion campus for 12,000 staff with a vast circular building surrounding a park planted with oaks and fruit trees, is an emblem of the US technology industry's latest craze. An industry of start-ups founded in garages wants to redesign employee activity, and prod engineers to get up from their desks and exchange ideas.

Apple Park is "a building which is pushing social behaviour in the way people work to new limits", says Stefan Behling of Foster + Partners, its architects, in an official video.

Apple is not alone: Amazon is planning for a US$5 billion second head office and chipmaker Nvidia has built a two-story office with spaces at its heart to "spark collisions".

Their collective vision is as ambitious as that of Louis Sullivan, the architect of early US skyscrapers whose 1896 essay The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered declared loftiness to be "on a high road to a natural and satisfying art".

In Apple Park and the like, the contrast is that instead of skyscrapers that split staff across floors, companies are building utopias in wide, flat campuses.

But people do not always enjoy sparking collisions, or having their social behaviour altered.


© Channel NewsAsia