15 March 2012


120315 apple copy
Imaginary Apple, Doug Joyce

I've been interested in how often Apple seems to get its way with its storefronts: brushed aluminum and frameless glass, with the punched-out, back-lit iconic logo. Variations of this theme, situated in many contexts, occur in many cities around the world, with the surrounding architecture offering little consequence. 

Yet in many ways, they are a distillation of the classic storefront. Ample glass to display the product and reveal the interesting things to be experienced and purchased within. Matched with an architectural surround, sides and along the top, framing the storefront, and predominantly displaying the single lit element, the Apple logo, usually positioned top-dead-center.  

If you didn't know the history of these stores, and their approach to merchandising, you would say that the monolithic and 'same everywhere' approach to store design represented the worst of corporate design.  They ignore the design traditions and idiosyncrasies of local design, not something you would consider as a well crafted solution on the face. 

But for the most part these stores are well loved, throughout the world. They are coveted because they are a destination, an attractor to the commercial neighborhoods they exist in; they also draw in people who just happen to be in the neighborhood and are passing by. Commendable by itself for a city or a shopping district, but I don't believe that is the extent of why an Apple store works for a city. 

There are variations. Flagships and stores located within a historic building, or important urban setting expand the formula. If required, buildings are renovated in a thorough manner, taken down to their elemental form and facade, with the store fitted in a cleanly as possible. Other specialty applications such as the glass cube in New York are delicately fitted in with an established urban context, honoring the existing outdoor space, yet making a clear presence on its own by sheer finesse. 

Each store has an essential integrity to it.  Each is carefully thought-through and executed. Each is quality. 

Several architecture firms, most notably Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, have been associated with these stores, along with Apple's own design team.  In their various permutations, the stores have found their way into many of the cities around the world. Over time the design vocabulary has evolved, expressing the design ethos of the mother corporation. Everything is done very carefully, and constructed well. The stores, every one of them, are maintained in the most meticulous way. The stores express a high level of quality, to the point that the characteristic of quality exceeds the importance of an architectural style. A few of the stores bend somewhat to the will of the local governing authorities in an attempt achieve some sort of homogeneity of the given district.  This is always tastefully and appropriately accomplished, but to some degree it only slightly alters what the stores convey to the street. It's always easy to see in and out of them, they are always filled with activity (business hours notwithstanding), and they are alway executed without flaw.

Apple stores are textbook cases for how buildings and businesses can contribute and make a good city. They add substance and interest beyond their initial functional purpose; they are conceived and constructed with the deepest care. Although they take on a machine-like character, they are executed with considerable skill, lavished with attention to detail, and are well loved by the designers, builders, and the ones writing the checks. They are ultimate crafted urban element, a gift to each place that makes a home for them.

Style and Quality

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