There is a fascinating dialogue taking place right now on the role of interactions both in the workplace and between the workplace and the urban environment. Whereas Silicon Valley has been the fabled home of the technology industry, trends over the past several years have seen startups, and now more mature companies, making their home in cities instead.
Almost every major tech company is now in design or construction of new headquarters or development facilities. Apple has taken a very different approach than others, opening up a very interesting living lab and competition to see what matters to top talent, whether tech or other.
Tech is hardly the only industry driving an urban resurgence as corporate America tries to lure new talent by meeting its smartest recruits where they want to live. Everyone from United Airlines to Hillshire Brands is moving back downtown, according to a recent Wall Street Journal piece. Reporter Lauren Weber writes that commercial real estate vacancy rates have fallen faster in cities than in suburbs as the overall market has recovered in recent years. And nearly half of all Americans with bachelor’s degrees are clustering in 20 metro areas.
Despite the powerful draw of city life, however, Apple still has one way to lure engineers and designers into its mothership: It’s Apple. The maker of the world’s most iconic products can count on its brand to draw talent into its, ahem, inner circle. And its new headquarters might wind up being so amazing that even the most dedicated urban denizens will be drawn to its architectural magic.
Regardless, it’s not like an urban headquarters was ever really a possibility for Apple. Cities overall, with their messy, chaotic, open-ended ways, their dense public spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration, don’t fit Apple as a company or culture. In a way, a closed circle is an ideal metaphor for Apple’s product philosophy: Our design is so seamlessly perfect you never have to leave our world. The question is whether walling itself off from the real world will one day lead to cracks in that perfection.