Apple’s exacting construction standards for ‘spaceship’ campus flummox contractors

“As the doughnut-shaped main building of Apple Campus 2 enters its final year of construction, contractors are starting to talk,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports for Fortune.

“What’s got them buzzing is not so much the scale of the building — a $5 billion glass-and-steel ring roughly the size of the Pentagon — but the exacting construction standards they are being asked to meet,” P.E.D. reports. “‘There were many meetings when the Apple representative would pick up your [iPhone] and say: ‘That’s what we’re building” one contractor that has worked on the project told Business Insider. ‘What that means is — if you look at the phone, there’s the sheen on the phone, there’s the bevel on the phone, there’s how much shine they have… every piece of that phone is engineered, and the building is the same way.'”

Read more, including tales of Steve Jobs’ demands for quality Campus 2 construction, in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Always strive for perfection.

35 Comments

  1. A circle. What about it. Welcome to 10000 B.C.

    Spaceship circle. Welcome to 1930, or whatever.

    iPhone case. Solid and it might be shiny. Not waterproof.

    Exacting standards ? Worthwhile , of course.

    1. That’s a loaded question. If you built a house that sells for $300k using “normal” standard it would cost well over $1 million if built using these standards. Could people afford them?

      1. It is also a loaded question, because Apple is holding firm on obtaining a building that meets their design intent. The design, based on illustrations and documentation I have seen, is high tech and technologically precise, thus it depends on high tech and precise construction to successfully meet the design goal.

        Other designs, equal in quality to the Apple spaceship might use low tech, hand crafted, building methods that rely on skilled craftsmanship using wood and stucco and masonry. Hiring the highest quality craftsmen in any field of construction, and using the finest materials and systems available, is always going to be more expensive than hiring the average guy. The result can be a project that meets the design goal, and “is worth the added cost” in many, many ways.

        Poor execution of either design/construction method would not meet the design goal. The discussion of building codes in the context of the Apple “Spaceship” borders on the rediculous. Building codes establish a minimum threshold of quality. Apple is so far beyond “minimum standards” in everything they do that meeting code requirements is virtually irrelevant.

    2. If all buildings were of this standard, the cost of construction would be too great. On the other hand, if what we were debating is a better safety standard, then I’d say yes.

    3. Building codes (the local codes that really force contractors to do at least the minimum) are often five to 25 years behind current technology.

      When I had my house gutted and remodeled 6+ years ago, I pushed for what is often called in the industry “code plus”. All the infrastructure of the house is a grade (or two) above what is the minimum code, e.g., spray in closed cell foam insulation everywhere rather than fiberglass bat (or similar) insulation, a 400 Amp main service rather than the standard 200 Amp service, category 6a wiring rather than the cat 5e wiring that was standard at the time, etc.

      Yes, it pushed the cost of the remodel up by about 20%, but I believe it is worth it. I build for the long haul.

      About a third the way through the process I had to fire my original contractor because he was arguing with me on a daily basis about what I wanted. The second contractor often said, “That’s not necessary, but if that’s what you want you get it. You’re paying for it.”

      Apple’s contractors should act the same way. They’re getting paid to do a job to Apple’s requirements. They should just get the job done.

      1. I agree that you can build a house better but that doesn’t mean it will last longer. You can make a house too tight and have to use mechanical ventilation for the required air changes. So you’re saving energy in one respect but then you have to spend energy to compensate for the problems of making a tight house. A tight house in a very cold or very hot area makes sense in the long run but a tight house where you have moderate temps most of the time makes no sense. You never recoup your costs.

        All knowing home owners sometimes think they know better when in reality they end up wasting a lot of money. For instance, what normal residential home needs a 400 amp service? That was a complete waste of money. A 200 amp service is overkill for most homes.

    4. It’s just plain dumb to compare an iPhone to a building. The iPhone is made with machined parts that are built within very exacting specs. Building materials are not made to those kind of specs. You can’t build a perfect building with imperfect parts.

            1. True, but I have always thought of it as my Newton not my MessagePad. (It is a 2000 upgraded by Apple to a 2100.) I have the keyboard too.
              Want to buy it?

  2. The contractors should not have accepted the contracts if they had any doubt they could meet Apples’ requirements and standards. Plus, they should ALL be glad that Steve is not around to point out all the little places where they’re not up to what he felt was the right way to do it.

  3. If they can’t handle the job or unwilling to build it to standards that Jobs/Cook/Apple has set and requested, then freaking leave. Get someone else that can DO the job right.

  4. Since when can’t contractors read blueprints? What exacting standards? Don’t all buildings have to be up to code or something. If they call for Italian marble then that’s what is required. These articles are so damn stupid accusing Apple of something ridiculous. Apple is paying enough for that construction, so aren’t they entitled to get what they want? Weren’t the pharoahs looking for perfection with their pyramids, so why shouldn’t Apple.

    1. Contractors are “flummoxed” because Apple isn’t letting them deviate from the design on the drawing. They are very used to building things that are sort of like the drawing and then convincing the customer that it’s OK because it will still pass the code inspection and fixing it will cost the customer more than he can believe. I suspect Apple isn’t having any of that BS and the contractors aren’t used to having to choose between meeting the drawing requirements the first time or cover the cost of rework to meet the actual design out of their own pockets. They’re flummoxed by having to deal with people smarter than they are and not being able to intimidate them.

    1. Been late myself to the conversation. Part of the problem, when quoting projects as construction companies do, then Apple says, “We want this”. The general impression is they want the look, which can be achieved. The vision of constructing a building vs a handheld marvel are incongruous. So what happens when Apple goes into the meetings, Apple starts talking like NASA, which we can all appreciate, except the builder, which did not sign up for building something like the Saturn V. However $5 billion is a whole lot of money. I am only guessing here. The builders aren’t making any money and that’s why they talk, or walk. You can see it. Build a 21st Century, 8th wonder of the world, and go broke doing it, except Apple isn’t the one going broke. They age getting the deal of a century.

  5. It has become commonplace to state that the size of the Apple Campus II building is similar to the Pentagon. The Apple building is slightly smaller than 3,000,000 square feet. The Pentagon is 6,500,000 square feet, according to Wikipedia. I wonder if Mr. Philip Elmer-DeWitt could clarify that for us?

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