Why Nvidia's new headquarters may beat Apple’s

Posted by Rob Enderle

Nvidia today announced its new Santa Clara headquarters, which seems to rival Apple’s plans for the old HP space in Cupertino.  

In looking at both of the artist renderings, while the Apple building is certainly spectacular, I think I’d personally rather work in Nvidia's shop.   

Now what follows is based on a number of assumptions that may turn out not to be true when either building is completed in a couple of years. But I’ve worked in a lot of buildings over the years, the worst was one built by IBM which was all glass but where they had been concerned about people fighting over being near the window so they put a wall between the glass and workers so everyone had that wonderful florescent light experience.  

The best was where I had a cubical on a corner with two near floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Great America Amusement park (they kept trying to move me into an office without a good window but I wouldn’t abandon that wonderful corner). Since then, I’ve seen some really great offices like the one Plantronics has near the coast which is almost better than working at home, and the more typical cubicle farms that I think kill workers a little each time they come to work.   

Nvidia vs. Apple

If you look at the two pictures, you'll see a powerful circular building for Apple with a beautiful park in the middle.   

A lot of glass on walls and a big solar plant that should be able to minimize the firm’s energy cost. The Circle drive is symbolic to Apple and similar to the circular drive that surrounds their current headquarters. Apple’s current address 1 Infinite Loop clearly is connected to the design of the new building.  

Nvidia has chosen two triangles connecting back to the company’s graphic roots. It almost appears translucent and the core design is specifically focused on encouraging collaboration. As a result, it is mostly lit (at least on the upper floors) by natural light but there isn’t the focus on using alternative energy (or if there is you can’t see it from the drawings). 

Apple’s culture is more of an office and individual contributor culture and the firm is known for the managed conflicts been software, engineering, and design. As a result, the building appears to be more about personal space and it is likely focused on offices and conference rooms.  

In contrast, Nvidia is more about getting teams to work together and the interior design should be closer to Plantronics and more open, warm, and comfortable.  

The end result is that while both buildings are amazing in their own right, if you like working in natural light, and in more of a collaborative friendly environment (and I  do) then the NVIDIA approach would be better. If you are very personally competitive, want your own private office, and are willing to work your way toward a window for natural light (typically windows come with rank and status) then the Apple building will be the more attractive choice.

Why Not an Arcology?

Clearly we see in both buildings an increasing approach to an Arcology. In its absolute sense an Arcology eventually is not only to blend building design into an ecologically friendly result but to also include employee living in the mix.  This last is being somewhat explored in shopping centers like Santana Row in Silicon Valley which combines living with shopping and offices but isn’t fully contained (most who live there don’t work there). Clearly, Cupertino wanted Steve Jobs to design in living into his plan for the new headquarters and with crime and traffic increasing I still think that eventually someone will blend living and working in the same complex.  

Wrapping Up: 

In the end, I’m a huge fan of natural light and in open layouts. I think they are much more employee/team friendly and while they don’t have the privacy of offices, I’d be willing to give up that privacy for stronger teams and no florescent lights. I am really not a fan of working under florescent lights. So that’s why I personally prefer the Nvidia design, it just seems like it would be a warner/better place to work I also think that there are good reasons to prefer both designs and that our choice probably says a lot about our own personal values.