Silicon Valley’s tech whizzes have transformed technology and society. And they have done so in a region noted for its suburban ordinariness, with its great inventions starting life in tinkerers’ garages.
That’s all about to change, with the advent of two major buildings, the new campus for Apple by Britain’s Norman Foster and the new headquarters for Facebook, by LA’s Frank Gehry.
This segment is about the gleaming Apple building that is going to touch down in an area of Cupertino currently filled with drab office buildings and strip malls. We learn about the architect, Norman Foster, and how locals feel about the pending arrival of the vast glass, concrete and metal ring already dubbed the “spaceship.”
Elina Shatkin is a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine who grew up in Cupertino with her engineer parents when they emigrated from Kiev, Ukraine, in the late 1970s. She recently went home and took the pulse of feelings towards the changing face of Apple and Cupertino.
She finds people generally excited by the whizzy new building, with its almost mile-long circumference, restaurant for 2000 people, cutting edge curving glass, and acres of trees. It will be a sharp contrast to the dreary strip malls, below left, that currently fill the area.
But they are also nervous at the prospect of thousands more cars and more air pollution (despite claims by the designers that the building will be energy neutral). She also finds some people, including her mother, questioning the changing social face of Silicon Valley, with jobs for more and more high-paid marketing people and engineers while essential manufacturing jobs for blue-collar workers have disappeared overseas leaving Cupertino with an unbalanced economic mix.
Norman Foster is a hugely successful builder of skyscrapers, airports, and museums that have the imagery and technical advancement of cool machines. Paul Finch, Director of the World Architecture Festival, says this architect comes out of Britain’s “high-tech” tradition, drawing influence from great engineering as much as from past buildings (below right, Foster’s groundbreaking Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.)
Now Foster is designing a building that takes its lead from tiny, sleek gadgets, starting with the pure circular form of a computer chip. Finch talks about whether round buildings work (spies have one!) and says today’s “industrial giants” are limited only by their imagination. But he also says not all tech buildings are so ambitious, saying many are essentially “white collar” factories, with similarities in design to the old blue-collar predecessors.
Not all “industrial giants” hire big name architects like Foster or Frank Gehry, but when they do this is “brand speaking to brand;” a global titan will only work with a fellow global titan. But, he concludes, behind the scenes, it’s the young whizz-kids in the global architecture firms that are shaping the environments for the young whizz-kids of Silicon Valley.
This segment followed an interview with Vanity Fair’s architecture critic Paul Goldberger, in which he talks about Silicon Valley past and future, and questions whether its ambitious new buildings will change the suburban nature of the tech hub.