After enduring three years of interminable construction, the residents of Brisbane (Australia) finally celebrated the grand opening of its downtown Apple retail store on Friday morning. A waiting line of fewer than 350 watched as the two massive front doors slid open, revealing a single, huge and bright space under a tall ceiling covered with intricate details, restored from the building’s original 1934 plans. Andris was the first person in line at 7 p.m. Thursday evening, followed by about seven others before midnight. The overnight weather was in the 70s, but after the sun came up there were three waves of rain sprinkles that dampened the waiting line. Apple staffers brought out umbrellas for the rain, and later handed out more umbrellas for the hot sun. The 1,000 commemorative T-shirts lasted about one hour, followed by a steady stream of visitors all day. Inside, the store again proves that Apple’s team has the skill and expertise to manage the difficult process of upgrading an historic building while keeping its most distinctive features intact.
Strangely, as impressive as the store is, it didn’t generate the usual Apple hoop-la. There were no high-level executives present, no video or photography crew, no special T-shirt design or custom grand opening brochure. In particular, Angela Ahrendts, the newly-appointed Sr. VP for online and retail stores, was not visible. She officially begins work in two months.
Sources say the Brisbane store project actually began six years ago, three years before there was any visible construction. Delays included a contractor bankruptcy, on-going city permit denials and debates, and the regular discovery of building features that created construction nightmares. In the end, the store cost $28.4 million to build.
The original store plans included a staircase on the left side of the space, leading to a partial mezzanine. However, that plan introduced both a lack of symmetry and the loss of some floor space. A revision of the original plan did not include the staircase or upper level, and that’s how the store was eventually constructed.
The store is organized into a large central section running front to back within a line of square columns. Outside the columns on either side are two large bays. At the rear of the store is a second entrance. The design enables the space to be contiguous and impressive, and yet still have smaller areas defined by the support pillars and the spaces occupied by back-of-house and the MacArthur Chambers entrance.
Product display tables make up the front of the store, followed by a set of shelving for small accessories in the middle of the store. The kids table is located just in front of a very wide Genius Bar, which is flanked by two square Genius tables.
Off to the left and right ends of the Genius Bar are bays for accessories under a lower ceiling, and tables for Personal Setup and training.
The design for the elaborate light fixtures is based on those created for the Opéra (Paris) retail store. The same design was re-used at the Amsterdam (The Netherlands) store, but at a smaller scale. The light from the fixtures appears whiter than a tungsten light bulb, suggesting it might be generated from LEDs, which would be a first.
Based on visitor complaints of high noise levels in voluminous stores, Apple’s designers included sound dampening panels on the walls and ceilings for the first time at any store. The panels are about 1-1/2 inches deep, covered in fabric, and are sized to fit the surfaces onto which they’re placed. The fabric is colored to resemble the intrior finish color, but the panels are nonetheless conspicuous. The wall panels in particular resemble a painter’s canvas awaiting the first brush strokes.
Visitors to the new store noticed that sounds were coming from underneath the product display tables. Indeed, Apple has apparently routed the computer speaker outputs to beneath the wood tables, apparently as another method to control the store’s acoustics.
The stone flooring looks similar to those used at other stores, but only for their 76 cm x 76 cm dimensions. Instead of Italian stone, the Brisbane store uses stone from Portugal. It has a slightly pinkish tone (similar to the storefront stone) and an obvious texture. It’s difficult to see, but the texture derives from the stone’s heritage—sea shells.
Like at a few other high-profile stores, the product display tables are made from a different wood than used a most stores. The oak wood is of a darker color than the usual maple wood. The Covent Garden (London) store uses English Oak for its tables, and its texture and tone resemble the Brisbane tables.
The front doors actually slide open on brass rails, operated by electric motors. Just inside, a stairway leads to another set of doors and a mosaic tile floor. Overhead is an old lantern-style light fixture.
The store’s air handling follows the design of several others stores. Air enters through holes in the stone floor tiles below the product tables, and is exhausted through vents concealed by sculpted details in the ceiling.
Significantly, as with other Apple stores in historic buildings, the most impressive elements are unappreciated by the average store visitor. The amount of work required to restore such a building is enormous, including technical, air handling, lighting, fire protection and security systems.
The upper floors of the building are occupied by serviced apartments. The Gen. Douglas MacArthur Museum is on the seventh floor. On the front of the building above a set of stone figures is the inscription in Latin that translates to, “A sure friend in uncertain times.” The saying relates to the AMP Society that previously occupied the building.
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