At its regular weekly meeting today the San Francisco Planning Commission approved the proposed glass and steel design for a downtown Apple store that would replace the nearby existing store that opened in February 2004. After almost two hours of debate, the commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the store, but included an amendment asking the architects to revisit the rear plaza’s accessibility features. The commissioners were nearly unanimous in their praise for the building design, but were concerned about the process of relocating the historic Ruth Asawa fountain, and inelegant outdoor elevators proposed to provide access to the plaza behind the store. The Apple store agenda items kicked off with Rick Militello, director of Apple retail store development, introducing the store design. He said it would be “the flagship” for Apple, and added, “This will be more iconic than the glass cube that you might be familiar with in New York City.” Foster + Partners architect James McGrath then gave a short walk-through of the store, and then the commissioners began their questions and discussion. On the subject of the fountain, one commissioner asked that their vote include an amendment to carefully preserve and move the fountain. However, a commission staffer pointed out that Apple had already agreed to those conditions at yesterday’s Historic Preservation Board meeting. That group approved the store design 6-1. The Planning Commission tied in voting on a procedural motion related to the store’s conformance with city zoning regulations. That vote means the city’s Board of Supervisors will make the final decision on the store project, and they are expected to approve it. The store could open in 2015.
During the meeting the commissioners heard public comments from four members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who have claimed the project had been given special consideration by various city departments. They also told the commissioners that Apple’s proposal should not be exempt from required environmental reviews.
Officials from three business groups also provided input on the project, and they were unanimously supportive.
On the issue of accessibility, a commissioner suggested installing a ramp leading upward from the sidewalk to the plaza. McGrath said that the design team had explored several options for accessibility, including a ramp. However, he said they chose lifts because a ramp would reduce the plaza’s width by 11 feet.
McGrath revealed that the front glass will consist of laminated glass panels with an air gap in between. The inner and outer panels will be specially coated to reduce interior heating by the sun and the loss of heat from inside. He also explained that the large doors would be used to conserve energy by opening the doors selectively.
McGrath showed a diagram of the proposed building’s structural steel skeleton, which is anchored in the structure of the Hyatt Hotel ballroom below. The steel frame is cantilevered to support both the upper retail floor and the roof sections. He said the store was designed to look simple, but like many Apple products, was complicated underneath.
In answer to a question about the Hyatt Hotel plaza and surrounding sidewalk materials, McGrath said he would “love” to re-do the red brick with the gray stone proposed for the Apple portion of the project. McGrath said his design team was constrained to the limits of the project, but that he could explore expanding the limit of the design.
At one point McGrath confirmed there would be Wi-Fi coverage on the plaza, and said it was intended to help people access the Internet—perhaps “start-ups” operating right from the plaza tables, he said.