Thursday, July 27, 2017

Apple Park’s Open Work Spaces

Christina Passariello (Hacker News, MacRumors):

The first prototype was ready in the summer of 2010, with pictures of trees on either end of the central area to evoke the landscaping and proximity to the outdoors. Jobs himself set the precise dimensions of the openings from one end of the central area to the other. The team quickly discovered that early versions of the small offices on each side of the central area were noisy—sound bounced off the flat wood walls. Foster’s architects suggested perforating the walls with millions of tiny holes and lining them with an absorbent material. In the completed section of workspace, Ive snaps his fingers to demonstrate the warm sound it creates.


The thousands of employees at Apple Park will need to bend slightly to Ive’s vision of the workplace. Many will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to. Coders and programmers are concerned that their work surroundings will be too noisy and distracting.


Ive takes offense at the idea that he hasn’t already thought of every detail during the years of planning Apple Park.

Jason Snell:

Some of the initial resistance will be the natural human response to any change, of course. But beyond that, there will almost certainly be real issues with moving productive Apple employees out of their offices and into big white open-plan workspaces. It’s going to be a period of adaptation for everyone who works at Apple.

John Gruber:

This would drive me nuts, I suspect.

Talent retention is arguably Apple’s biggest threat, and unhappy employees leave.

Nick Heer:

Sound-absorbing holes in the walls won’t reduce visual distractions, of course, but this attention to detail indicates that Apple and Foster and Partners are at least aware of how open offices are perceived and how they may be distracting to their employees.

Todd Ditchendorf:

 literally has more cash than they know what to do with. Spending some on a campus that maximizes private offices should’ve been a priority.

Apparently, window/door frame tolerances & integrated door knobs were prioritized instead. Yeah, it sounds like Sir Jony’s product.

See also: Joel Spolsky.

Previously: Apple’s New Campus.

Update (2017-07-31): See also: John Moltz, Anil Dash (tweet), Upgrade.

Update (2017-08-09): The Talk Show:

Special guest Glenn Fleishman returns to the show. Topics include China forcing Apple to remove VPN apps from the Chinese App Store, Wi-Fi vs. LTE networking, the open workspaces in Apple Park, Glenn’s new letterpress project, the HomePod OS leak and iPhone D22, and more.

Paul Hill:

[John Gruber:] “When he [Srouji] was shown the floor plans, he was more or less just ‘F--- that, f--- you, f--- this, this is bulls---.’ And they built his team their own building, off to the side on the campus … My understanding is that that building was built because Srouji was like, ‘F--- this, my team isn’t working like this.’”

The open floor work spaces will only be for standard employees, while the high-level executives will be exempt from the collective work environment and will have their own offices on the fourth floor of Apple Park. Other employees won’t even be moving to the new HQ, on this list is Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services; he and his team will remain at the current headquarters at Infinite Loop.

Gina Hall (via Hacker News):

Apple has insisted in presentations to the city of Cupertino that the open floor plan designs are conducive to collaboration between teams, per Bloomberg.

Mitchel Broussard:

One source is said to have been with the company for 18 years. They emailed Gruber, telling him that they’re working on something that is “going to blow people’s minds when we ship,” but before that happens their team is transitioning to Apple Park. Gruber noted that the email was very level-headed and had a “perfect Apple sensibility,” but the source nevertheless said that if they don’t like the Apple Park workspaces, they’re likely to leave the company after the product ships.

Gruber said he got a “couple of similar emails,” with employees stating that they won’t outright quit before they move to Apple Park, but if it’s as bad as they think it’s going to be then they will consider leaving Apple.

Rima Sabina Aouf (via Hacker News):

Some Apple workers hate the open-plan layout of their new Foster + Partners-designed campus so much they might quit, according to reports circulating around Silicon Valley.


All of the 12,000 Apple employees due to work at the campus are expected to have moved in by September 2017, when the building is fully completed. It will have been eight years since the late Steve Jobs hired Norman Foster for the project.

Other early criticism of Apple Park has come from Wired, which claimed the building is “retrograde, literally inward-looking” and lacks consideration for its surroundings.

Update (2017-11-10): Juli Clover:

There were rumors suggesting some Apple Park employees were dissatisfied with the open office design at Apple Park, so much so that Apple vice president of hardware technologies Johny Srouji insisted his team work at a different location, but the Wallpaper piece mentions several times that office space within the main building is configurable, with teams able to choose individual offices or open spaces.

Update (2018-02-16): Mark Bergen:

Apple staff are often glued to the iPhones they helped popularize. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents.

Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. However, the notes were removed because they detracted from the building’s design, the people said.

Update (2019-12-19): Sommer Panage:

I love Apple Park; it’s stunning and refreshing. However, the open floor plan and shared offices are the #1 contributor to lowering my productivity. I often find myself hiding out in conference rooms or working from home whenever possible in order to actually get shit done.

Update (2023-08-30): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

6 Comments RSS · Twitter

[…] Apple Park’s Open Work Spaces […]

Four workers abreast with low partitions? I suspect Apple is playing with fire. This will not only rankle North Americans, who are used to having private offices or high cube partitions, but also people who are used to working in a group office situation (for example: Germany and Japan).

Office hierarchy, whether individual or group, exists for a reason. It's really not a good idea to mess with it.

I'll be really interested to see how this turns out. Really interested. I want to believe, but it seems like an error of colossal scope.

Like Todd Dichendorf above, I would have thought an innovative design to give every employee a corner office with a pair of windows at 90 degrees would have been the preferred solution. The beautiful curved building would have ended up far more fractal-mandelbrot-y, but surely...

If you are curious, I'm thinking of the design recommendations from Christopher Alexander's comprehensive "Pattern Language." (Stewart Brand's "How Buildings Learn" also contains some quite readable insight.)

The best part about all of these "open offices are so great" initiatives is that the people pushing them inevitably keep their personal offices. Open offices are great (i.e. cheap) for people who do the actual work, but all of the C*Os, the people who force everybody else into open offices, won't have to work in them. It's almost as if they actually knew that open offices suck.

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