Apple Park – a Spaceship and 9000 Trees

On Sept 12, Apple announced the launch of iPhone 8 and other products at its new Steve Jobs theater, which is part of the brand new campus Apple Park.  While the world finally got to see the next generation of iPhone and other hotly-anticipated products, it also got a glimpse of the near complete Apple park, a project that has been in the works since 2014.

Apple Park

Apple Park sits on a 150 acres lot , 1 mile from its current headquater in Cupetino, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It  is the brainchild of the legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, a legacy project of his.  “I want to leave a signature campus that expresses the values of the company for generations.”   (Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs, p.535).  Everyone were curious to find out: how would this be achieved?

Spaceship, and 9000 trees

The most famous part of the Apple Park, of course, is the unique shape of its office building.  As Steve Jobs said, “It’s like a spaceship has landed.” Creative, high tech, cutting-edge, futuristic… a very fitting image for the world’s most valuable high tech company.

Spaceship

Is the spaceship the only major feature of the Apple Park?  No.  If one takes a walk around Apple Park, he will see lots and lots of green – the campus is fully surrounded by trees and plants, not just inside, but also outside of the fence that separates the campus from the rest of the city.

Apple Park 2

Apple Park 3

Why all this green?  Two obvious answers will jump to one’s mind: beautifying the campus, and privacy.  Sure.  However, there are some deeper reasons.

According to “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, “One of his (Steve’s)  lingering memories was of the orchards that had once dominated the area, so he hired a senior arborist from Stanford and decreed that 80% of the property would be landscaped in a natural manner, with six thousand trees.   ‘I asked him (the arborist) to make sure to include a new set of apricot orchards, you used to see them everywhere, even on the corners, and they’re pare of the legacy of this valley. ‘’’  (p.536)

So the trees and plants here are not just to to green up the space, but to serve two other very important purposes: to honor the legacy of the area, and create an environment that will look like the natural landscape around here.

Steve Jobs liked to walk at Stanford Dish, a trail around a large satellite dish with views of rolling hills that make up the valley.  He admired the hundreds of live oaks there so much that he asked his people to track down the arborist who planted them, and hired him to be the senior arborist of the new Apple Park.  As Steven Levy of Backchannel said,  Jobs “wanted to create a microcosm of Silicon Valley, a landscape reenactment of the days when the cradle of digital disruption had more fruit trees than engineers. In one sense, the building would be an ecological preservation project; in another sense, it’d be a roman a clef written in soil, bark, and blossom.”

Dish
A view on Stanford Dish; the dish can be seen on the left

The result is a 150 acre campus that is 80% landscaped, with fruit trees, Califonia natives, and drought tolerant plants from other regions.  The campus now has 9000 trees, 50% more than Jobs’ original number.

Bring back the “Old Valley” with California native plants

Just from the outside, one can see how Jobs’ vision is being realized.

Here, you can see lots of oak trees.  Per Re-Oaking Silicon Valley, “In Silicon Valley, oak ecosystems were the defining feature of the landscape before large-scale transformation. Oak savannas and woodlands were so extensive that the valley was christened the Llano de los Robles, or Plain of the Oaks, by early explorers.”  While we are far away from that now, these oak trees and others can bring us one step closer to it.

Oak

Here, you can see oak, strawberry tree, and perenials of yarrow and Douglas iris, all “big” California natives.  All of them adpat well to California’s mediterrian climate, very drought tolerant and hardy.

Douglas Iris is a beautiful plant native to California coast.  They bloom in spring, with purple blue flowers amid long green leaves.

Apple Park 4

Manzanita, another big California native

manzanita

Seaside Daisy.  You can find them at many coastal locations.  They thrive in windy, cold and dry environments, with all the pretty purple blossom.

Seaside Daisy

California Lilac

All these California native plants not only render the campus a beautiful place, but help bring back an old valley that existed before the transformation.  What is more, since they are all drought tolerant, much less water is needed, helping to conserve  a large amount of water .

When we are planning our own gardens, we can borrow a page from Apple, to build very water efficient yet pretty gardens with mostly native and drought tolerant plants.  If you replace your lawn with a water efficient garden, you may receive rebate by removing the lawn and putting in water efficient plants now ($1 per square feet if all requirements are met).  Find out more about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program here.

Irrigate trees with recycled water

While most plants are native and only need a little water once established, when they were just planted, they still need quite some water to settle.  As we can see, all the trees and planting areas are equipped with automatic irrigation, receiving regular watering.

9000 trees on the campus need a lot of water.  To address this need, Apple planned something well ahead.  It partly funded a project to lay pipes and bring recyled water to the campus.   Per Jordan Kahn of 9to5mac.com, “Apple catalyzed talks among the various water stakeholders in the area, making plain its desire to use recycled water on its new campus, said Katherine Oven, deputy operating officer of the water district… ”Apple drove this project,” she said. ‘It really is a true partnership of both public and private agencies.’”  The project finished in late 2016, in time for most of the trees and plants’ arrival.

By using recycled water, Apple can further reduce its net water usage, conserving more water.  In a world where water the resource just keeps getting more scarce relative to our demand, recycled water has become a bigger and bigger part of the overall water strategy.  How Apple waters its vast campus sets a good example.

Benefits of Trees

Trees can provide many benefits in addition to honoring a place’s legacy.  They can

  • Improve air quality by reducing pollution and filtering out a big portion of the fine particle pollutants, and noises.  In places with many trees, the air just feels more fresh and the environment quieter.  In a city like Tokyo, although it has a population of over 9 million people and heavy car traffic, abundance of trees and vegetation must have played a big role in making it very clean (air) and quiet.
  • Reduce stress.  Last year a study found that simply looking at trees can reduce your stress.  If one gets more active by taking a walk or jog in the trees, the health benefit can be more significant.
  • Cool down the environment during hot summer days and reduce air conditioning energy and cost.  While we are having more and more heat waves and extreme hot weathers in summer, the cooling effect of the trees have become ever more important.  By reducing the energy required for air conditioning, we can further cut down the green house gas and its warming effect.
  • Increase biodiversity.  A big tree like an oak can support a big ecosystem, with all kinds of insets, birds, small animals such as mouses and squirrels, as well as the plants that have been living close to it for tens of thousands of years.  Each ecosystem can contribute to the health and richness of the much bigger ecosystem of the whole area.
  • Manage storm water and reduce the hazard of a flood.  During storms trees can absorb a large amount of water, reduce runoff, reduce the speed and power of the rainfall, thus reduce the hazard of a flood in the city.

With all these benefits and more, it is easy to see why we should plant more trees.  At office parks, at our own gardens, in the streets and parks.  Include a tree or two when planning a water efficient garden.

Office and Trees: Yin and Yang of an Office Park

When Steve Jobs presented Apple Park’s plan to the Cupertino city council, he said, “I think we have a shot at building the best office building in the world.”

On the one hand, the Apple Park has a building in the very bold and creative shape of a spaceship; on the other, 9000 trees that take up 80% of the space.  One is for innovation, technology, and products; another is for environment, nature, beauty, and inspiration; one eyes the future, the other ties to the place where we come from.

The building and trees are like Yin and Yang for Apple Park.  Together they make this environment where people want to absorb the best the nature offers, and create the best technology and products in return.