Similar to their identifiable products, the Apple stores require a sleek, almost instantly recognizable, aesthetic. As keepers of the latest technology, the buildings’ minimalist interiors boast a calm and sophisticated demeanor, complimenting, yet not overshadowing, their prized possessions. It may come as a surprise that the leading architects behind the stores are Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), a firm that had never designed a retail store before Apple and whose principal, Peter Bohlin, winner of the AIA Gold Medal, ironically doesn’t use email.
Bohlin has awed us in the past, especially with Apple’s second Manhattan retail store located on Fifth Avenue. Turning a tough retail space into a successful masterpiece, the store’s iconic cube, a 32-foot glass structure, marks the store’s entrance and beckons customers down to the retail level which is illuminated with natural light. And now, BCJ has just unveiled their latest Apple store, and the first of its kind in China which seeks to emulate similar design decisions as the Fifth Avenue project.
This past Wednesday, workers removed the red plastic curtain covering the Apple store’s new cylindrical glass tower to prepare for the store’s Saturday opening. The tower, which is surrounded by two large skyscrapers and a substantial circular wall of concrete, includes a spiral glass staircase leading to an underground retail space – just like New York’s.
In both cases, the New York and the Shanghai designs represent a return to elementary geometry – simple basic forms, utilizing the transparency of glass to allow light into hard to reach spaces. Yet, the geometry also responds specifically to the site conditions. For instance, when Bohlin met Jobs to discuss the Fifth Avenue store, Bohlin drew the rough outlines of a cube in front of the General Motors tower. “The best thing about that building is its narrow profile. So I thought, ‘What is the inevitable shape to contrast that?’ ” Bohlin said. And, this cylindrical form has undoubtedly been a response to the building’s existing outer concrete wall.
By focusing on real architectural issues, such as light, site context and the feeling a space can evoke, BCJ created a recipe for Apple that is flexible enough to produce variety, but cohesive enough to create an iconic line of related buildings.
All photography from Flickr user Lesh51.