Corporate headquarters get a bad rap in the architectural world. Stereotyped as bland, homogeneous, and uncreative, such buildings are often portrayed in film and television as tall, intimidating structures of glistening glass and dull concrete. Within, one imagines, sprawl floors of identical cubicles and glass-enclosed private offices. Uncreative, boring, and depressingly rote; does corporate real estate really deserve the reputation the media places upon it? I would argue not.
At its heart, a corporate campus is meant to distill a company’s culture into architecture; to provide a welcoming place to the employees who dedicate their workdays to furthering the institution’s goals. As a corporate real estate broker, I’ve found that most companies won’t simply make do with any building with the right square footage and a Wi-Fi connection. Instead, they want a space that speaks to their company culture and fills their employees’ need for community – even if that dream stretches their budgetary limits. In fact, according to research published by Agustin Chevez, an associate professor at the Swinburne University of Technology, such campuses were originally introduced in the 1940s as a means to bring academic serenity and community to the corporate milieu. As Chevez himself writes: “A university-like campus signalled that this was not simply a business, but an organisation working towards a higher purpose.” Amenities such as restaurants, fitness centers, and other social-recreational spaces were later introduced to further integrate employees’ working and personal lives into a single collaborative workspace.
Today, this 20th-century philosophy of an integrated workspace has taken on a utopian twist within the tech industry. A person need only look to the West Coast to see just how incorrect the stereotype for corporate blandness is – today, tech companies such as Apple stand as some of the most impressive examples of how corporate campus development can be creative, thoughtful, and above all impactful for both employees and those in its extended community.
Apple’s innovative facilities at Apple Park stand on 175,000 acres of land and house over 12,000 employees. Built in the neo-futurist style, the Park curves in a glimmering circle around an oasis-like interior of grass and trees. It’s far cry from the concrete minimalism of a stereotypical corporate headquarters, and has good reason to be. The Park’s form is the architectural manifestation of Steve Jobs’ conception of the company’s mission and culture. In his design direction, Jobs sought to bring the natural world into the workspace and provide a calm, nature-friendly environment which encourages collaboration. The building is powered sustainably via its rooftop solar panels, and the temperature is regulated by engineered openings to the outside, rather than air conditioners. Everything, from the single restaurant to the far-flung bathrooms, are meant to encourage people to stroll and bump into their coworkers. To Jobs, this frequent unplanned communication would open the door to Apple’ core mission of innovation. The design of the building wasn’t meant to hold employees in – it was meant to encourage them to think and create beyond the limits of a cubicle.
Corporate headquarters don’t need to be – or perhaps shouldn’t be – bland constructions. Rather, they should be buildings that were conceptualized with a company’s vision and mission in mind. Creativity comes part and parcel with corporate campus planning; the goal should always be to draw employees together in collaboration and to encourage them to achieve in a community, rather than work in collective isolation.