Pixar's offices are located in Emeryville, California and Apple is headquartered in Cupertino. While both companies are clearly very different in terms of the products they produce, I've found a number of interesting similarities between their approaches to designing and building a campus.
I think these similarities can be synthesized into tips for designing an office:
1. BUILD FOR THE LONG TERM
When designing a campus, the general idea is that a company is going to stay there for a number of years. Pixar, for instance, began planning and building their's in 1999 with the idea that it could house up to 1000 employees. That number has since expanded along with additional building projects, but their campus footprint remains the same. By thinking ahead, the company hasn't had to pack up shop and move elsewhere.
Apple's Campus II seems to also be a project that is planned to house the company for the long term. Once completed, the campus will have enough space to house nearly 15,000 employees. With the amount of planning an engineering going into this project, there is no doubt that the company will stay and grow there for the many years to come.
TIP: When moving and designing your next office, try to plan for where you foresee your company being in several years as opposed to planning for your current needs. By doing a bit more pre-planning, you could be saving your company additional moves which translate into lost work hours and lost dollars.
2. GO BIG OR GO HOME
There is nothing small about either of these company campuses. Apple's Campus II is set on 170+ acres; Pixar's on 20. Neither were planned in an effort to do something small and ordinary, but instead to do something big, bold, and out of the ordinary.
For Pixar, an important facet is the large atrium space famously designed by Steve Jobs. Brad Bird, director of The Incredible and Ratatouille, said of the space, “The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space…But Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.”
Apple has similar aspirations with its bold circular design created by iconic architecture firm Foster & Partners. By implementing such a design into the very fabric of the company, one can imagine the type of creativity and mindsets that must be fostered at the company.
TIP: When planning your next office space, try implementing several big ideas into the design to encourage outside of the box thinking from employees.
3. THREATEN TO LEAVE TOWN — THEN DON'T
One of the most interesting similarities I found between the two campus projects was the use of hardball negotiation tactics in the planning process. In both cases, the companies actually simply threatened to leave the cities – either Emeryville or Cupertino – and move to other pastures unless those cities allowed certain items to happen.
Pixar wanted to build a wall around their campus, though at first rejected, was promptly approved after a threat or two to leave. When Cupertino council members prodded Apple about providing some additional items around the city – like free public Wi-Fi – Steve Jobs noted Apple's ability to move to other cities that might enjoy their large tax amounts more.
TIP: While threatening to leave a city isn't going to help a smaller company, you can apply this idea to landlords when renegotiating a lease to move things in a more company-favorable direction.
4. KEEP OUT THE "LOOKY-LOOS"
Both companies are incredibly secretive about what they are up to, with Apple definitely taking the lead in this regard. Apple's new campus is set back from the property line, behind a fence and a veritable forest of trees. Clearly the idea is to keep out prying eyes.
Pixar's property is fenced and walled-in as well. Their Director of Facilities has said, ”We are a movie studio, and this is what movie studios do. Now that we are a more successful company, people want to get into Pixar. We get fans and tourists; we call them ‘looky-loos. But we also get people who want to steal our intellectual property and our ideas. It’s no laughing matter…”.
As secretive as both are, they allow some limited access to their campuses either via Apple's on-campus Apple Store or Pixar's various campus tours.
TIP: Design your office in such a way that takes privacy seriously. Allowing limited access can keep your secrets safe, but also engender goodwill with your community and fans.
5. CREATE A GRAND LANDSCAPING PLAN
For both companies it was essential to surround their campuses with amazing landscaping. Apple plans to fill its acreage by "Creating a landscape environment that gives Apple’s employees opportunities for recreation and reflection" and "Maximizing the provision of green space and design in accordance with the climate and history of the area". This includes planting hundreds of trees and acres of grasses for employees to enjoy.
Pixar's campus includes a 600-seat outdoor amphitheater, a soccer field, and an organic vegetable garden used by Pixar’s chefs, flower cutting gardens and a wildflower meadow. And for both fun and fitness, they also have an olympic-sized swimming pool, volleyball court, jogging trail, and basketball court.
TIP: If landscaping isn't possible, consider locating your office or company in locations where there is plenty of access to parks, nature, and recreational activities.