The Untold Story of Apple Park by Witold Rybczynski

“I’ve been looking for the young landscape architect who is the next Olmsted.” — Steve Jobs to Laurie Olin


From the November 2018 issue of The Journal of the American Institute of Architects:

Olin was approached by Apple in the spring of 2011. By then, the Foster office had been working on the building for almost three years, but apart from a local arborist who had been advising on tree planting, no landscape architect had been appointed. Olin, whose firm is based in Philadelphia, flew out to Cupertino and met Jobs.

Olin recounted the meeting to me. “I’ve been looking for the young landscape architect who is the next Olmsted,” Jobs told him, referring to the great 19th-century park builder. Olin, who was 73 at the time, wasn’t sure how to respond and said something about Olmsted being unique. The name came up several times in their conversation. Olmsted had laid out the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, where Jobs lived, and Jobs referred repeatedly to Stanford’s Main Quad. At one point, after Jobs had talked about what he liked in a landscape, Olin asked him what sorts of things he didn’t like in a landscape. “Anything modern,” said Jobs. “But you’re the most modern person there is,” a surprised Olin replied. Jobs didn’t elaborate; he just threw his hands up in the air and repeated, “Anything modern.”

When Olin met Jobs, the 56-year-old business magnate was undergoing treatment for cancer—he would die in October of that year. Olin describes their relationship as “a brief encounter, but very intense.”

My take: I bet it was intense. I love that Jobs was looking for the young Frederick Law Olmsted and found the 73-year-old landscape architect responsible for the makeover of Bryant Park in New York, the gardens of the Getty Center, and the grounds of the Washington Monument.  “Apple Park should end up as one of the most significant works of my career,” Olin told Rybczynski.

P.S.: The opening paragraph…

Most press coverage of the new Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., designed by Foster + Partners, has not been kind. There are stories about people bumping into glass walls, and employees complaining about the open-plan offices. Why are the parking garages so big, the critics have complained? Why is the building so isolated from its surroundings? “There’s too much that makes [the project] incredibly backward thinking (and not just its lack of child-care facilities),” wrote Allison Arieff in The New York Times. [emphasis mine]

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