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Silicon Valley construction watch: Apple vs. Tesla

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How do two Silicon Valley giants big new buildings stack up from the air?

Aerial photo of the Tesla factory under construction in the Nevada desert.
Aerial photo of the Tesla factory under construction in the Nevada desert.
Image by Matthew Roberts

As 2017 and the promised opening day draws near, contractors are still beavering away on the emerging Apple Campus 2 in Cupertino, and drones continue to buzz overhead.

But not all of Silicon Valley’s biggest construction gigs are in the valley itself. South Bay drone operator Matthew Roberts took a road trip before his monthly perusal of the Apple site to rural Nevada, and the site of Tesla’s enormous production facility in progress.

(You can see both videos below.)

When complete, the so-called Gigafactory in Storey County will be the largest building in the world in terms of its footprint, although only the second largest by actual volume.

Tesla claims it could produce up to a million cars annually when fully completed, as well as the batteries that power them.

At nearly six million square feet, it represents a $5 billion-plus investment for Tesla and its partners.

It’s also a rather large (record breaking, you might say) lost opportunity for California. Though Tesla began in a tiny office in the South Bay, founder Elon Musk opted to move the facility to Storey County (population 4,000 or so) instead of his home state in 2014.

Still, while the Tesla factory may be a triumph of scale, the aerial survey doesn’t suggest that we’ve missed out on much in terms of exciting design.

Courtesy Tesla

While there is something pleasing about the contrast between the Apple Campus’ famous Norman Foster ring design next to the gigantic, white, right angle Tesla designed, the factory’s planned final vision looks like nothing so much as one gigantic solar panel.

Say what you will about the Apple spaceship, but it’s unquestionably a signature building, one that will inspire imitation and envy among other tech giants.

The Tesla facility (nicknamed the “alien dreadnought” by employees and Musk alike, which doesn’t sound entirely complimentary), on the other hand is—well, it’s big. And that’s about it insofar as design goes. And there’s not much else to it than that, at least from above.

Which is probably why, although some construction voyeurs have taken to buzzing the Tesla building via drone recently, it doesn’t enjoy quite the same aerial entourage as the Apple facility.

While the full Tesla factory will not wrap up construction until 2020, its modular design means that it can begin operations early next year.

Possibly right around the time that Apple is ready to make its big move.


Stonestown Galleria, San Francisco, CA 94132