In Silicon Valley, the world’s largest Apple product is taking shape — a glass and concrete ring wider than the Pentagon.
Apple is known for keeping tight control over its product development, and this new campus is no exception.
I got a rare tour of the headquarters site in Cupertino, Calif., and asked some neighbors, like Nana Zhong, what they think. Zhong sells health insurance in a strip mall across from the future Apple campus.
She’s a Steve Jobs super fan — she has an iPhone, iPad and MacBook. She would love to know what’s going on across the street. “We’re curious because the gate is closed,” Zhong says.
Whatever’s going on in there is big, she says.
There’s a lot of excitement around this site. A whole subculture of amateur drone videos on YouTube shows the Apple site from above.
Some videos are soundtracked to thumping techno music with captions like, “The fourth floor of the parking garage is almost complete.”
Inside those gates is a very large construction site.
There are a thousand construction workers and 1.5 million tons of concrete.
At the center of it all is the outline of the new doughnut-shaped building, a mile in circumference — a deep circular groove in the ground.
I’m with Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who’s now Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives.
The company’s Vice President of Real Estate and Development Dan Whisenhunt is our tour guide. He’s seen the drone videos, but he didn’t sound enthusiastic.
“There’s nothing wrong with sharing progress along the way, but if it were our preference, we’d like to share it in phases that are meaningful to us,” Whisenhunt says.
In the currently not-meaningful category: how much all of this will cost.
Asked what the budget is for the project, Whisenhunt replies: “We have one!”
Whisenhunt and Jackson did want to talk about the campus’ many green building features.
“You see this structure … it will be four stories tall with a solar layer on top,” Whisenhunt says. Those panels on the parking garages will nearly power the entire campus, he says.
And ultimately, about 80 percent of this place will be open space — rolling hills, walking paths, trees.
Standing in front of a scale model near the site, Jackson says she’s excited about the building. But what really jumps out at her are all those trees.
“You feel like you’re looking at a park that has some 7,000 trees on this site, almost like a forest of our own,” Jackson says.
Another neighbor curious about this future forest is Diane May, who grew up here, back when this area was all fruit orchards.
“The orchards are all gone,” she says. “So, that’s the way it goes.”
Her house is the antithesis of an Apple product — three Chihuahuas, a granddaughter in diapers and May’s elderly mother snoozing in front of the Food Network.
May asks, what’s this new building going to look like?
“It looks like a big doughnut on the ground,” I tell her. “So it’s like a big circle with a hole out in the middle.”
“And there’ll be a nice little park there … too?” she asks.
Well yes, but …
Back at Apple, standing in front of that scale model of rolling hills, I ask Jackson, “How much of this space is public?”
At that point, Apple’s media handler is waving her papers in the air, a gesture that says — stop talking now.
“I’m looking at all the trees and that open space there. Is that open to the community or is there a wall around it?” I ask.
“There’s a fence around the site,” Whisenhunt says.
Some critics have called the campus insular. They say there’s more to sustainability than solar panels — that it’s about engaging the community, too.
“This isn’t an office building. This is an R&D facility,” Jackson says. “Think of a national lab. Think of NASA. That’s the level of work that’s happening here.”
The campus is scheduled to open in late 2016. It will have a visitor’s center.