Steve Jobs’ Mega Mothership Shows Building Planning Is Broken [Opinion]



This is a guest post by Adel Zakout, CEO and co-founder of, a crowd-sourced architecture portal for building geeks.

The video of Steve Jobs presenting Apple’s plans to build a new “mothership” in Cupertino to the local council was absolutely hilarious! Not just because of the absurd questions the councillors asked but their obvious lack of professionalism, understanding of architecture and ridiculous fanboy-ism.

We love Apple too – but think that the planning process is really broken. The fact that Steve can clearly threaten to move his tax dollars elsewhere if the new campus doesn’t get approved shows that.


Buildings are a huge part of our everyday lives; we live, work, eat, play and sleep in them yet we are not involved in their design process whatsoever.

Good architecture has the ability to make us happy; but decisions about our communities are made behind closed doors, by people who are rarely qualified to do so. We have very little say in what gets built or not – and things like tax dollars and politics cloud judgement over the official decision making process.

At OpenBuildings, we think that construction industry needs to made transparent and democratic – and we’re working to do just that. We believe that:

– We need to be involved in planning our local areas. To be able to take part in an open process of deciding what types of buildings, spaces and community projects are planned, that ultimately affect our everyday lives. The proposal for Apple’s new campus is one shrouded in secrecy – the Architect is still-to-be announced and, whilst I’m sure Steve’s intentions are great, the community didn’t seem to be involved in the decision-making process behind the building.

– We need strong incentives to promote good architecture that is sustainable, thoughtful and considerate. Quality over quantity, to create lasting environments for our children. The mothership seems to be architecturally interesting and will definitely stand out in Cupertino (based on a couple of renders) although I would question how considerate it is to its local history and surroundings. Yes, the increase of green space and the fact that it is a low-rise building is thoughtful – but, architecturally, this building could be located in London, Beijing or Dubai. It doesn’t seem to have any specific contextual link.

– We need to have easy and structured methods to democratically make our voice heard about building proposals in our areas. Steve’s presentation was the exact opposite; the council made it clear that they were going with this proposal, even before Apple had submitted an application for a building permit. What about the thoughts and concerns of the local residents – whether positive or negative?

– Developers and Architects need to also be able to engage with the local community when thinking about buildings in order to manage their process more transparently. It’s difficult to say whether this happened or not, due to the hush-hush process behind the design of the building. Rumor has it that British Architecture firm Foster & Partners is behind the design; I doubt that much community consultation took place.

At, our ambition is to fix the process of planning buildings with OpenBuildings Local, a new community section of our site that is coming soon. is a community-driven directory of historic, contemporary and conceptual buildings from across the globe. Our ambition is to democratize the built environment by making information about buildings, from design through construction, more open; to connect the construction industry digitally and champion an open approach to architecture. We want to engage with local communities about buildings in their area, inform enthusiast or tourists about interesting architecture and empower industry professionals by allowing them to find new business. We recently announced $2million in funding from BlueRunVentures and Index Ventures and are working to disrupt an industry that is currently in the technological dark ages.

Explore our 40K+ buildings on or via our iPhone application “Buildings.” Android app coming soon!


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