Some of the mystery surrounding the replacement of the iconic Fifth Avenue (NYC) retail store glass cube has been explained by graphics that just appeared on the black material covering the outside of the construction scaffolding. According to the lettering, “We’re simplifying the Fifth Avenue cube. By using larger, seamless pieces of glass, we’re using just 15 panes instead of 90.” Two graphics accompany the words, showing the structural outline of the original cube, and the less-cluttered and more simplified future cube. The explanation hints that the new glass panes were made in China by the same company that developed the tall laminated panes used at the Pudong (Shanghai) retail store. Previously, only a German company was capable of making the huge panes. A construction barricade went up at the Fifth Avenue June 16th, followed by an extensive network of scaffolding to support removal of the cube’s 90 panes, and the 25 glass “fins” that help support the structure. Building permits filed by Apple with the city say the glass replacement will cost $6.6 million, a figure which probably doesn’t include the cost of making the glass panes. The overall cost of the project could be $10 million, an amount only Apple would spend to make an icon even more iconic. Update: The Gothamist has posted a rendering of the final cube design, showing fewer hardware connectors but retaining interior support fins of glass.
The original Fifth Avenue glass cube was erected in 2005–2006 and reportedly cost $7 million. The glass was manufactured by Seele GmbH in Germany, using state-of-the-art technology which, at the time, limited the length of laminated glass panes to 32 feet in length by eight-feet wide. Using those dimensions, Apple’s architects came up with the unique cube design, which has become an architectural and cultural icon in New York City and beyond.
The glass technology back then meant there had to be six columns of panes on each of the cube’s four faces. Each column was three panes tall. The top of the cube was similarly constructed of a six-by-three pattern of panes. At each vertical seam, there is a glass support fin set at right angles. There are five fins on each face, each consisting of three panes. The top panes are also supported with fins, for a total of 75 support panes. All of the panes are all connected by unique hardware designed by TriPyramid Structures Inc.
The Fifth Avenue cube retained its unique standing until 2009 when Apple’s designers began casting about for ideas to make the Pudong store special. Their concept of a 40-foot tall glass cylinder was imaginable, but not yet technically possible. Seele did not have the equipment to make the glass that large. Even if they did, import tariffs and politics dictated that a Chinese company should supply the glass. A search led to North Glass Safety Glass Co. to supply the laminated panes. The company had already manufactured some glass panes for the West 14th Street (NYC) and Sanlitun (Beijing) stores. The panes were curved for the former store and over 27-feet long for the latter, a company executive has said.
But North Glass had a big challenge for the Pudong store: make perfect 41-foot tall panes, larger than any ever made. After a year of work and inventing new manufacturing methods, North Glass successfully made the 12 side panes that make up the cylinder, and the pieces that make up the top.
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