Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the new Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif., in 2016
Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the new Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif., in 2016 © Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press


Simply by announcing that it plans to invest heavily in a second American city, Amazon has set itself apart from its competitors. Most American tech giants have remained true to the deeply suburban roots of a field whose origin stories often feature two-car garages on quiet streets as the backdrops for ingenious breakthroughs in personal computing. Amazon is framing its campaign to build a second headquarters first as a sort of stress test of competing cities — and perhaps of American urbanism itself — and then as an investment in one of them.

In doing so it is distancing itself from one fellow tech behemoth in particular: Apple. One of the last projects Steve Jobs worked on before his death in 2011 was a new campus for the company in Cupertino, Calif. Designed by the British firm Foster and Partners and known as Apple Park, it is a circular building chiseled out of curving glass and set carefully into a lush garden: the very picture of Arcadian distance from, if not distrust of, the big city. The 175-acre campus, which includes parking for 11,000 cars, is essentially complete; on Tuesday Apple held the first major event in its Steve Jobs Theater, unveiling new iPhone models, among other products.

Plans for Apple Park were probably too far along at the time of Jobs’ death for his successor, Tim Cook, to pull the plug even had he wanted to. It would have taken a remarkable amount of courage for Cook, just after taking over for Jobs, a much feared and respected figure if not a much loved one, to reverse course on his predecessor’s pet project. And yet by staying the course on Apple Park the company has built an exquisite monument to Jobs, as opposed to a place for the future Apple to define itself.

The stubbornness of Cook’s fidelity to a set of ideas that will always be associated with Jobs has been a remarkable thing to watch. It has also been remarkable to watch Amazon pursue a dramatically different strategy. Its plans for a second headquarters suggest that in terms of architecture and campus planning it wants to be everything Apple is not. It wants to lean into the city — and thorny questions about gentrification and housing prices, to the extent that they will be a natural byproduct of this process — rather than away from it.