Spiral Glass Elevator, Steve Jobs Theater

Inside the Steve Jobs Theater at the Apple corporate headquarters in Cupertino, CA, a 42-foot tall free-standing glass cylinder houses the elevator which carries visitors from the lobby to the theater space. The entry and exit are opposed 171 degrees from one another. In place of two doors in the cab, deemed by Apple and architect Foster + Partners to require too much visible hardware in such a minimal space, the cab itself rotates, guided by three helical rails.

The three high-strength duplex stainless steel guide rails are each 60 feet long, extending into the mechanical space below, with a helical diameter over eight feet. Along their length, 19 welded tabs connect each rail to either the glass cylinder or one of the three structural rings which support the glass. The helix and tab locations needed to be accurate to within one millimeter in any direction for the system to operate flawlessly. This was accomplished with sophisticated laser measuring tools and highly adjustable custom weld fixturing.

Along with the guide rails and structural rings, TriPyramid supplied all of the non-glass cab structure. The cab was made entirely from aluminum to meet the strict weight requirements due to the free-standing nature of the structure in an earthquake environment. Every component was made as lightweight as possible by machining away any non-structural excess material. This was especially true for the structural floor pan which was machined from a five-inch thick 4,500-pound plate to a highly efficient 628-pound final part.

Connecting the cab to the guide rails was a significant technical feat accomplished with six, complex guide-arm assemblies. The mating surface between the rails and arms is Rulon, a low-friction, high-wearing plastic, while the guide-arms also house two spring dampening mechanisms to reduce vibration and load transfer. 28 sets of bearings varying in size from 35mm to 55mm allow the cab to rotate freely from the piston.

The extensive team worked together for more than three years from design collaboration through full-scale mock-up to completion. Creating this minimal vision took a significant amount of behind the scenes and under-the-cladding design, engineering, and craftsmanship.






Foster + Partners


Eckersley O'Callaghan


Seele GmbH