Steve Jobs wasn’t a fan of Apple’s Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino, California. But its six buildings, the design of those buildings, and the overall campus plan defined an entire era for the company’s employees, its products, and its mercurial leader. In fact, its new Apple Park offices, designed by Foster+Partners, are arguably less representative of Apple’s spirit than the old Infinite Loop campus, which the company occupied from 1993 to 2017. The latter embodied Apple’s unlikely resurrection in the late 1990s. The former feels like yet another Apple product.
After all, the old Infinite Loop was where Jobs and Jony Ive conceived every single product that made Apple a one trillion dollar corporation. That turned it into a legendary tapestry of anecdotes, tragedies, comedies, and design choices. For nerds like me, walking into its atrium was like being a Christian pilgrim walking into Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the first time.
This week, Wired‘s Steven Levy published an extensive oral history of the original campus that tells the tales of a place that still belongs to Apple (and still contains Jobs’s untouched old office, which Tim Cook tells Levy he visits from time to time to feel his presence). Many of the anecdotes hint at how the campus design itself shaped the company and its products.
Jobs dreamt of monorails and uniforms
John Sculley, who became Apple CEO at the request of Jobs only to later betray him, describes Jobs’s early visions for a new headquarters:
Steve called it SuperSite. He wanted something like the experience of going to Disney World, with monorails going around, where everyone was in different-colored uniforms. When Steve told the Mac group that he wanted to have uniforms, they all looked at him like he was crazy.
The anecdote reaffirms that Jobs wasn’t only a marketing visionary but a true showman–a Willy Wonka in a black turtleneck.
Walking was part of the culture
Dan Whisenhunt, VP of real estate from 2007 to 2018, told Levy that while Jobs didn’t like Infinite Loop because it wasn’t his design, he really liked the interior courtyard, and used it and the campus grounds to conduct his famous walking meetings. “He had very predictable paths,” Whisenhunt says. “The first was from the parking lot through the lobby up to his office. The second path was over to Jony’s studio. That was an indoor route that was known very well.”
Romance in the atrium
According to Chris Espinosa, Apple employee #8 since 1977, the atrium was the central hub of the Infinite Loop campus, “the crossroads of the company” where Jobs ordered giant product banners hung up to motivate the engineers. “If you sat on the black couches for long enough you’ll see half the people that you need to talk to in a day, even though most of them work in other buildings,” he told Levy.
Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod, describes how he met his wife Dani for the first time in the campus atrium: “You just don’t do that, you’re always running around. Because we’re going so long, Steve comes down the elevator, comes out of the secured area, locks eyes on me, sees Dani. I could see it in his eyes–‘What the hell are these two doing talking to each other?’ So he beelines over and says, ‘Whatever you’re doing, you guys better not be doing this.'”
Jony Ive’s lab was “like you had entered a spaceship”
Apple was a notoriously rumor-leaking company until Jobs came to power. As the company worked on the first iPhone, Jobs and his security services locked down the campus. Secure doors with authentication codes were installed wherever needed. “The original OG lockdown was Jony Ive’s lab,” senior iPhone manager Andy Grignon tells Levy. “The stainless steel door with a camera and the buzzing in, all this stuff.”
Avie Tevanian, who made the kernel that is the core of all Apple products and came with Steve Jobs after Apple bought NeXT, describes the custom fabrication machines that let the design team produce instant prototypes–along with the wooden tables that serve as displays at every Apple Store today, one of the many subtle but pervasive ways in which the old campus influenced the company. “Everything else on the campus was utterly, utterly corporate standard, and then you went in this ID room and it was like a whole different world,” Fadell says. “It was like you had entered a spaceship.”
“Now fast forward to Apple today and pretty much everything is locked down,” he told Levy, “but that’s where it started.”
In 2017, the company moved to the Apple Park mothership, based on the vision Jobs had a couple of years before he died. A beautiful vision indeed–sleek, smooth, and perfect–but devoid of the soul of the storied, imperfect campus of early Apple.