Architecture Critic Paul Goldberger on Silicon Valley, San Jose, and Apple

Last week Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, sat down with Allison Arief of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose to discuss the state of 21st Century urbanism with a focus on Silicon Valley. Though admired the world over as the preeminent center for technological innovation, Silicon Valley has never been known for its great architecture. Goldberger suggested that this reputation could’ve improved had Apple not missed the mark with the design of their proposed Apple Campus 2 building in Cupertino.

While acknowledging that Apple is probably the best design company at the moment, Goldberger asserted that the company’s design abilities end with small consumer gadgets and fail spectacularly at the urban level. Calling the Norman Foster designed building for the new Apple Campus a ‘beautifully designed donut or spaceship’, he lamented the lack of context and connection to anything around it. Speaking to an audience that included members of San Jose’s city government, Goldberger suggested that Apple missed the opportunity to take the reins to help transform San Jose by relocating at least some of its operations to help its long struggling (and subsidized) downtown.

The reality is that most of the big tech companies in the Valley, not just Apple, have an extreme indifference to place-choosing to locate operations in suburban office parks. This has much to do with the history of Silicon Valley planning as it does with the nature of tech companies, which tend to employ legions of introverted computer engineering types and go to great lengths to remain insular and secretive (Apple taking this to the extreme). Perhaps it also makes perfect sense that rather than even acknowledging the true urban environment, companies whose primary business is creating the virtual world in which we increasingly experience public life take an active stance on turning their backs on the city.

Yet for those still interested in experiencing the delights of pre-Information Era, pre-21 Century urbanism, there is always San Francisco not far up the road.  Goldberger made the point that the handful of tech companies who do choose to locate their operations in the city probably have a different mindset than those that stay in the Valley. Twitter being the prime example of the moment- the micro blogging site just leased 400,000 square feet of space on a long-maligned section of Market Street. Up in Seattle, Amazon recently announced its plan to build three new 37-story towers in the downtown area, which the proposal’s architect said is “not about building a corporate campus, it’s about building a neighborhood.”

So even though not every tech company is averse to the city, the Richard Florida argument that high urban density is a prerequisite for innovation and creativity is a bit of a stretch, as the economic success of suburban Silicon Valley continually disproves. Near the end of the discussion, Goldberger suggested that deliberately designing space for innovation might be a bit too self-conscious. This implies that rather than design, factors such as human resources, access to capital and a culture with openness to trial-and-error matter more than the traditional urban hardware of cities.

Adam Nathaniel Mayer is an American architectural design professional currently based in China and California. In addition to his job designing buildings he writes the China Urban Development Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @AdamNMayer.

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The reality is that most of

The reality is that most of the big tech companies in the Valley, not just Apple, have an extreme lack of interest in the put option to identify transactions in suburban office parks. This has much to do with the history of Silicon Valley planning how the nature of technology companies working CISSP Dumps

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Importance of Architecture to Silicon Valley?

The Silicon Valley has always lacked a sense of culture. When I was a child I knew all of my neighbors on the street, today that is much different. The area is much more transient...people come to silicon valley, make money, and leave. Look at the VCs on Sand Hill, Biotechs near Stanford, or The Semiconductor Industry in San Jose. The diversity of this area is much much greater than a Redmond, SF, or any other area I can think of. I fail to see how architecture can do anything to change this when its a byproduct of high priced housing. In my 40+ years as San Jose resident the area blossomed from a farming community to a seedy downtown and now an technology tiger. Along the way a true history was never defined.

In my unsophisticated opinion if you want to see architecture go to Rome and take photographs.

Regarding Apple, they want to build where the talent is and if I were a shareholder I'd much prefer that stance over the installment of a hoola hoop shaped fantasy dome. Frankly, Apple is not a Tech Company that markets consumer goods but rather a Marketing Company that sells tech products to consumers. So do I want to see them commission architecture that will be considered a representitve of the Area? Not really. People engage because of what they have in common and regardless if it is a soccer feild at the nearest park or a jogging path in Milpitas I am still unconvinced of how any architectural developments will drive a communal atmosphere to a fragmented area.

As for Corporate Architectural Investment what is the ROI for this when alot of the tech arena is moving away from brick and mortar.

The reality is that far more work in office parks then downtowns

The reality is that far more people (not just in computers) work in suburban office parks then "hip" downtown. In some metro areas, a single large suburb can have more office space then the downtown of the "original" city. I think most employees would prefer to stay there too, as it is closer to their homes in the suburbs. Even people in their twenties and thirties, which some publications make you think hate the suburbs. I prefer my office park location far more then my former downtown jobs location. Most Americans don't like the city much as they are annoying and expensive.

Most people really don't care there aren't many "amenities" in and around their workplaces. They are there to work, not play. Most people in the real world are more then ready to leave their workplaces in the rearview mirror at the end of the day, not wanting to hang around even if it is fun. They have busy lives outside of work.

The fact that many companies have chosen suburbs over the the cities is often the result of the really lousy business climate in many cities not that they love office parks. Companies rarely care about the building they are in as long as it isn't a lot of trouble.

Microsoft Campus in Redmond

The main Microsoft campus in Redmond is 2 and 3 story buildings spread over a fairly large campus with sports fields in the middle of the campus. The urban types do not completely understand the idea that a high tech employer wants 70+ hours a week of work, so amenities are provided to keep people on the job. This ranges from dinner at night, sports fields, being downtown would destroy this goal, so its better to keep isolated so that the workers don't want to leave.