Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Recycle That Headquarters

Ezra Stoller/ESTO. Courtesy SOM.

Two recent dispatches from the frontiers of office design: a drone video of the vast circular excavations for Apple’s new Cupertino headquarters, and the news that Weyerhaeuser, the tree- and forest-products company, was selling its own earthwork-like 1971 building to move to Pioneer Square, in downtown Seattle. These projects have more in common—for better and for worse—than you might think. Weyerhaeuser (shrinking) is giving up the suburbs of Federal Way, Washington, for the dream of urban connection, even as growing companies drape themselves in vines to make their out-of-town locations seem like the earth-friendly choice.

When Weyerhaeuser’s three-hundred-and-fifty-four-thousand-square-foot complex was new, it was simultaneously the last word in the suburban corporate estates that flourished during the postwar era (Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center, outside Detroit, was among the earliest) and the first word in environmental consciousness as company branding. Weyerhaeuser’s architect, Edward Charles Bassett, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s San Francisco office, said of the design, “I wanted to find a point where the landscaping and the building simply could not be separated, that they were each a creature of the other and so dependent that they could hardly have survived alone.” The long, low building acts as a dam for a ten-acre artificial lake, with a wildflower meadow on one side and water on the other. (The landscape was designed by Sasaki, Walker and Associates.) The façade looks as much like foliage as structure, with stripes of concrete panels alternating with long, recessed windows and ivy-covered terraces.