Steve Jobs — (Also) Visionary in Design & Architecture

A few days ago one of the most influential figures in computing, product design, and — in many ways — architecture, died.

In the 70’s and 80’s, Steve Jobs helped to change the course of personal computing as the co-founder of Apple, bringing technology to the masses through design simplification. A 1981 ad from the Wall Street Journal makes the case clear, “Putting real computer power in the hands of the individual is already improving the way people work, think, learn and communicate and spend their leisure hours.”

Thirty years later over a hundred million people around the world learned about his death via notification on their iPhones and iPads. None of these devices are traditionally define as “computers;” none of these devises are wired to what’s call a “local network.”

As for product design, the “i” factor is well known worldwide and has been recognized by design masters such as Dieter Rams. In this field, Steven Paul Jobs’ legacy will last for a hundred years.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains, of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” — Steve Jobs

Further exploring the world of design, Steve Jobs was a patron of architecture. Jobs worked with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, one of the most renowned US architecture firms, to develop state-of-the-art retail stores around the world. In these iconic projects, glass — one of the most essential materials in architecture — moved to the next level of design, technology,and functionality. And here, Jobs was essential for Corning to develop “Gorilla Glass” that Apple applied vigorously to their most daring store designs such as the glass box store in Fifth Avenue, NYC and the glass cylinder store in Shanghai, China.

It is believe that these sheets of glass comprising Apple’s stores are the largest used in architecture, to be exceeded only by the new and huge curved glass walls of the upcoming new Apple World Headquarters designed by Sir Norman Foster and Steve Jobs.


Apple’s original Fifth-Avenue glass store in NYC broke all retail architectural design traditions to invoke the heart of design simplicity, and in the process became a hot tourist destination, as well.

Apple’s New 2011 Revised Fifth-Avenue Cube Uses Just 15 Giant Sheets of Glass — Apple, famous for pushing materials to their limits in order to make ridiculously thin and strong gadgets, is doing the same for its flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City. A remodel of the already perfectly good design will see the amount of glass panels of the iconic cube reduced from 90 panes to just 15. It seems that Apple’s minimalism knows no bounds.

Glass cylinder store in Shanghai, China — In July 2010, Apple opened its first retail store in China… Shanghai. The bound again made unbound, as Jobs worked with architects and glass manufacturers to created the glass-cylinder store.

The round glass store entrance tower, surrounded by two large skyscrapers and a substantial circular wall of concrete, includes a spiral glass staircase leading to an underground retail space – just like New York’s.

In both cases, the New York and the Shanghai designs represent a return to elementary geometry – simple basic forms, utilizing the transparency of glass to allow light into hard to reach spaces, just as Apple products brought illumination of user-friendly, simply-designed technology to the masses.

Other Notable Apple Store Designs:

Carrousel du Louvre

Hong Kong IFC

Ginza Tokyo

Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (glass-roofed Apple retail store)


As in architecture where Steve Jobs’ influence has produced many breakthroughs related to manufacturing, most of Apple’s product design innovations relate to manufacturing, as seen on the Macbook Unibody aluminum design and for which every one of the world’s existing, highly technical laser cutting manufacturing machines for the unibody is devoted exclusively to Apple product manufacturing.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish” — Steve Jobs

And the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, commissioned to Foster + Partners, is what culminates all the discussion points above into one ground-shaking building with new sustainable technologies and resource utilization. Curved glass, a new way to conceive office space planning, low impact on the existing site while providing more green areas, integrated design and a state of the art sustainable strategy… all will be Steve Jobs’ legacy for architecture when doors open in 2015.

“It’s a circle, and so it’s curved all the way around. As you know if you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There’s not a straight piece of glass on this building, it’s all curved. And we’ve used our experience in making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use.” — Steve Jobs


Apple Inc. New World Headquarters – Designed By Lord Norman Foster & Steve Jobs


Lord Norman Foster issued a tribute to Steve Jobs (1955-2011), who passed away yesterday at the age of 56. Foster + Partners is working on the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, scheduled to be completed in 2015.

With my colleagues I would like to pay tribute to Steve Jobs. Like so many millions our lives have been profoundly and positively influenced by the innovations pioneered by Steve and Apple, names which are inseparable.

We were greatly privileged to know Steve as a person, as a friend and in every way so much more than a client. Steve was an inspiration and a role model. He encouraged us to develop new ways of looking at design to reflect his unique ability to weave backwards and forwards between grand strategy and the minutiae of the tiniest of internal fittings. For him no detail was small in its significance and he would be simultaneously questioning the headlines of our project together whilst he delved into its fine print.

He was the ultimate perfectionist and demanded of himself as he demanded of others. We are better as individuals and certainly wiser as architects through the experience of the last two years and more of working for him. His participation was so intense and creative that our memory will be that of working with one of the truly great designers and mentors.

– Norman Foster Architect Chairman + Founder of Foster + Partners


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