Second London Flagship Store Revealed

August 12, 2008

The future Apple store in the historic Covent Garden (London) district will occupy a spectacular space inside an historic building, according to planning and architectural documents just filed with the city of Westminster. The flagship location at the corner of James Street and The Piazza is one of the most historic and architecturally distinctive areas of the city. The district includes the London Transport Museum, Royal Opera House and the glass-covered Covent Garden Market, along with scores of smaller shops and eateries. The building Apple will occupy dates back to 1876 and its façade is considered a protected heritage structure. Inside, the store will be on three levels, connected by a spiral glass staircase, and will sit behind an impressive eight-arch pedestrian arcade, with an entrance on The Piazza side of the building. The store will be about a mile and one-half east of the existing Regent Street store. The collection of planning documents provide a rare inside view of Apple’s planning for a flagship store, and the how an historic space can be upgraded to fit Apple’s retail requirements.

According to documents filed in early July by property consultant company GeraldEve, Apple will occupy retail and office space at #1 The Piazza, #6-7 The Piazza and Bedford Chambers, at the northwest corner of James Street and Kings Street. Office space in the development will house Apple’s growing European retail headquarters staff. The existing Rock Garden nightclub/restaurant would be closed, but converted to “appropriate high quality restaurant or café occupiers,” according to the planning documents.

None of the documents indicate when Apple would open the store. However, taking approval and construction into account, a grand opening would likely be in late 2009 or even 2010.

The application filed in mid-July covers a complete reconstruction of the buildings, including basement, ground floor, mezzanine, and upper floors. According to the plans, the retail store will occupy the ground floor, mezzanine and first floor-rear with a staff of 190 employees. Apple will also occupy the second through fourth-floor office space staffed with 70 administrative employees.

The retail area would be on the ground floor, linked to the mezzanine by a spiral glass staircase. The mezzanine, in turn, would be linked to the rear portion of the first-floor (second-floor in U.S. lingo) by a straight-run glass stairway topped by a skylight. The front portion of the first floor is office space, according to the architectural plans.

The ground floor will have stone flooring, while the mezzanine and first floor will retain the current wood flooring of the building, specified in the documents as “reclaimed or English Oak.”

The space includes a formerly open courtyard, which will be enclosed and topped with a glass skylight, and used for presentations, music performances and other large gatherings. Like the storefront, the courtyard is surrounded by open brick archways.

The storefront will be nearly 117 feet wide, set back about 20 feet from the street curb, and visible through a set of masonry arches that evoke old-time London. The property is about 130 feet deep.

Overall, the retail space totals 16,361 square-feet, with another 10,042 square-feet in the basement for stock, back-of-house and repair operations. The upper-floor office space will total 26,091 square-feet, according to the plans. About 4,865 square-feet will be occupied by “plant” equipment, such as air conditioning and electrical rooms.

Property leasing is being handled by Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), who was appointed in 2003 after unsuccessful marketing campaigns by other companies, according to the planning documents. The building owner wanted to lease 1 The Piazza to a single tenant, the documents state, because of the difficulty in sub-dividing the space in the old building. C&W said sub-dividing would be “commercially unviable” because it would not generate sufficient revenue, and would not allow incorporation of two rear spaces called the Courtyard and Warehouse. Sub-division would also eliminate “the opportunity to create a flagship store,” C&W stated.

In a report accompaning the official planning documents, C&W outlined its association with the property, and provided justification for combining the properties and renovating them.

C&W said it undertook an “extensive” marketing campaign and contacted a long list of retailers about occupying the space, including Gap, Zara, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ferrari, FCUK, H&M and 21 others. But during their contacts, C&W learned of several disadvantages of the site involving visibility, access, internal lay-out, servicing, signage and pedestrian flow.

Then the property was sold in mid-2006 to developer Capital & Counties, and the new owners purchased the adjacent properties “at significant investment,” in order to “create a vision for this building which…will enable Apple to build an international flagship store.” The combination of spaces “should not be underestimated and has been essential in being able to attract a retailer of Apple’s calibre,” the C&W document states.

Representatives of Capital & Counties attended the West 14th Street (NYC) grand opening last December, the C&W document states, “in order to understand the profound affect [sic] the company can have on an emerging area, as well as its enhancement to an historical building in the meatpacking district.” The representatives also wanted to examine the effect of opening a third Manhattan store on the existing Apple stores, a situation that has similarities with London.

In a particularly telling paragraph, C&W said it believes that, “Apple is unique at the current time in terms of its offer and ability to retail within architecturally significant buildings. Unlike many other retailers, it seeks to restore and enhance these spaces, allowing its brand to sit within property that are sufficiently important, so as not to detract. Its store at Regent Street is a very good example,” C&W’s report states.

“Without exception, Apple will work tirelessly with its partners, cities and communities to create the most appropriate solution for these special buildings and an unrivaled experience for its customers,” C&W concluded.

Other documents submitted by GeraldEve outline the store’s accessibility, sustainable design and an external noise survey.

Structural work on the buildings will include adding three new elevators, removing and relocating two support columns, adding a new ground-floor steel frame and light-weight concrete floor, and installation of a glass roof over the rear Courtyard section of the building. Several architectural diagrams of the development notate, “cleaning, conservation and repair of existing brick.”

An archaeological assessment of the site by an independent consultant was submitted to the city, and concludes that since the construction won’t penetrate deeper than about three feet into the ground, there is no impact on historic artifacts that might be buried beneath the site.

Apple and its representatives have met with local neighborhood and government groups about the redevelopment, GeraldEve states. The company noted that initial design proposals “included the introduction of the Apple logo within the new glazing on The Piazza elevation.” However, it notes, “Further to comments from the (City Council) Design Officer these have been omitted from the scheme.”

Instead, Apple will use a simple, square black sign with cut-out Apple logo, similar to those posted at the Soho and West 14th Street stores in New York City.

GeraldEve goes on to say, “The design approach reflects the importance given to improving the historic character of the building. The proposals are intended to provide a sensitive response in order to preserve and enhance the quality of the historic fabric of the building while ensuring the buildings [sic] viable future through the creation of a unit that can meet the demands of a modern retailer and officer occpuier.”

The planning consultant continues, “To achieve this, the Apple design team have adopted a design approach…(which is) distinctly bespoke in its treatment of the building. This is apparent from the shift in chosen materials which are a total transition from the pallette of materials typically used in Apple stores across the world.”

Contractors listed on architectural documents include Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (architects), Gensler, Buro Happold, Eckersley O’Callaghan (glass staircase), and !SP Lighting Design.


This shows the storefront of the future Covent Garden Apple store along James Street

This shows the storefront of the future Covent Garden Apple store along James Street

This shows the side section of the future Covent Garden store, with the storefront to the left. Note the spiral glass staircase.

This shows the side section of the future Covent Garden store, with the storefront to the left. Note the spiral glass staircase.

A sectional view of the future Covent Garden store showing the rear stairway from mezzanine to first-floor--it indicates its a glass staircase with a skylight overhead.

A sectional view of the future Covent Garden store showing the rear stairway from mezzanine to first-floor--it indicates it's a glass staircase with a skylight overhead.

This shows the set of buildings that will comprise the future Covent Garden Apple store in London.

This shows the set of buildings that will comprise the future Covent Garden Apple store in London. The storefront will be on James Street, at the bottom of this diagram.

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