Apple Makes Major Store Architectural Moves

by Gary Allen on April 15, 2013

As the 12th anniversary of Apple’s retail stores approaches next month, the company is significantly shifting the chain’s very foundation—its architecture. Sources say the company will no longer build street-level stores that feature an arched glass roof, and that it has reached out to another architecture/design firm to carry the chain through the next decade. Strangely, at least one motive for the changes is money, the sources say. While the stores’ design has been the work of many, from the beginning major credit has been given to architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and interior designers Eight Inc. Both firms have navigated both mall and street-level stores through the early days of black metal storefronts and wood floors, and into the modern age of all-glass storefronts and stone tiles. They have also handled high-profile stores, which have alternated between large, modern façades and carefully-restored historic buildings. Now, things are changing.

First, the store design pioneered at the Upper West Side NYC) store will be dropped from the architects’ portfolio. The design features two tall stone sidewalls, an expansive glass storefront, and an arched glass roof over a single voluminous space. There could still be one or two such stores still in the construction pipeline, sources say. After that, the design will no longer be used.

The mostly-glass store design is enormously complicated and difficult to execute within Apple’s standards of precision, and the design uses incredibly perfect materials. Both factors contribute to the high cost of the stores—up to $2 million for the smaller versions. That cost was the major factor in the decision to drop the design, sources say.

The Upper West Side design has been re-used three other times, at the Highland Village (Tex.), Palo Alto 2 (N. Calif.), and Third Street Promenade 2 (S. Calif.) stores.

The complexity of the Upper West Side design is obvious in this flickr gallery of photos of the Highland Village store. But a set of store blueprints obtained from the Houston (Tex.) planning department reveals even more details. Specifically, the air handling systems are entirely hidden below the stone floor, and the roof suspension system appears delicately balanced on the walls, but is securely tied in through steel truss works (see below). All these elements are expensive, apparently even for a company with $137 billion in cash reserves. Download (pdf) selected blueprint pages of the Highland Village store for more details.

As one design disappears, brand-new store designs may take its place. Sources have told Marketing Magazine that Apple has retained the firm Foster + Partners to assist in designing future stores. The firm specializes in both architecture and interior design, although it’s unknown which of those talents will be used by Apple. Notably, the company is the primary designer of Apple’s future and circular corporate campus in Cupertino (N. Calif.).

Foster + Partners has been involved in many masterful and iconic buildings around the world, including the Reichstag in Berlin, London City Hall, Singapore Supreme Court, Netherlands World Port Center and the Elephant House at the Copenhagen Zoo. Their retail projects tend to span entire developments rather than individual retailers. However, their store-level projects include the Espirit Shop, Asprey Store and Ivorypress.

It’s likely that Foster + Partners’ work will be an evolution of the current store design rather than an entirely new concept. Their work may also focus more on street-level and high-profile stores rather than those in mall locations.

A review of current mall storefronts in chronological order demonstrates how architecture and interior design have evolved since the first locations in May 2001. The early stores had black metal storefronts inlaid with white, back-lit Apple logos. Later stores featured stainless steel with an overhead logo, while current designs are almost entirely glass (above: Saddle Creek, West County, Ala Moana).

The newest prototype (a retail store term for a store model) for new high-profile stores is an all-glass box with a thin, suspended roof. The design will first appear at the Stanford  2 (N. Calif.) store, and then the downtown Portland (Ore.) store. both designed by the BCJ firm.

This blueprint details how the glass roof structure at the Highland Village store sits on structural steel contained within the two stone sidewalls. Click the image for a larger view.

This blueprint shows how air is introduced into the store through under-floor ducts, through holes in the stone flooring, and is then exhausted through ducts near the junction of the roof and side walls. Click the image for a larger view.

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