Brick and mortar: Where industry acts like government

The Obama and Trump administrations have at least one thing in common: a fascination with Silicon Valley.

Now Silicon Valley is beginning to find a way in which to imitate the government, namely the construction of monuments. The evidence: Apple’s new $5 billion headquarters. I admit, I’m drawn into the rush of interest in this structure. The giant, round building, nearly a mile in outside circumference, is about to receive its first occupants. It will eventually house 12,000 of Apple’s 116,000  employees.

If you look hard, you can find a single picture of the building on Apple’s own website. But no mention. I probably didn’t read deeply enough into the 10K filing. Apple wants publicity about the building, but on its own terms. So it’s given tours to selected, presumably sympathetic writers. The company is both modest and coy.

Published reports run from worshipful reviews to grousing critiques. Writers all see the million-dollar glass doors, endless open collaboration areas, and giant food service court. But they take away the attitudes they bring.


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Several reports, including this one from Wired, point out how erection of ambitious headquarters often occur at a company’s apex of wealth and power. Then companies’ fortunes change, they vacate, and leave empty monuments subsequent to the owners repurpose. It’s a mistake, though, to draw cause-and-effect out of construction of a fabulous headquarters. For instance, the Woolworth Building in New York went up in 1912. The company owned the building, dubbed the Cathedral of Commerce, for 85 years. Manhattan is a veritable museum of corporate statements. The then-radical Seagram Tower best represents the 1950s, the imposing Pan Am Tower the 1960s.

Thus the monumental Apple “ring” might be something rare for Silicon Valley, but not for…

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