Architectural Bravado

The most astonishing innovation introduced at this week’s Apple event is the entrance to the Steve Jobs Theater in the company’s new campus.

Entrance of the Steve Jobs Theater. This image is from a great photo series taken during the iPhone X introduction and published by Re/code.

This design raises so many questions. How does this roof resist the force of gravity? (It’s made of carbon fiber, so it must be incredibly light. It has to be since there are no columns; the roof is supported by the building’s glass walls.) How do the lamps get electricity? (I’m guessing there are thin wires between the panes of glass.) How do you drain water from the roof? How do you insulate this space? How does heating/air conditioning work? I have no idea and would love to find out. This looks like a structure that should not be physically possible. And yet, there it is. Achieving this “floating roof” effect required rethinking many architectural precepts.

That buildings like this exist says something about the maturity of architecture as a design discipline. “We’ve figured out the basic problem of safely sheltering people from the elements,” the Steve Jobs Theater seems to say, “now let’s go for the gusto.” Clients have the sophistication to assign considerable resources to realizing the implications of this statement, and architects have enough self-confidence to go through with it. Both parties are willing to explore the possibilities offered by new materials and take expensive risks.

Contrast this with another event that has been in the news recently: the breach of Equifax’s security systems, which led to the confidential information of 143 million people being compromised, and the company’s botched response. Following the disclosure of the breach, Equifax put up a website so incompetently designed that it led people to question whether it was actually a phishing site. Equifax’s information environment hasn’t mastered the basics yet; it’s not even effectively keeping us from getting soaked in the rain, so to speak. And yet, given the scope of the breach and the importance of the information that was leaked, it’s clear this information environment has a larger impact on our society than any building. We are willing to assign resources to playful bravado in one type of environment, while in the other we seemingly haven’t mastered the basics — even though the stakes are much higher. Why is this?