It’s not often that a retail store becomes an icon even before it opens for business, but Apple managed to pull off this weird architectural/cultural feat with its glass box Apple store in NYC in 2006–it’s the 5th most photographed landmark in the city and 28th worldwide according to a new study of Flickr images. The man who designed it, 70-year-old Peter Bohlin, has been awarded the 2010 gold medal from the American Institute of Architects for his entire body of work, and he doesn’t like computers and had never designed a retail environment before the Apple store.
According to a feature article on him last week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Steve Jobs didn’t care about the lack of retail experience. What he wanted was an architect who could create a “social space” that would compel people to visit, since otherwise it’s easier to just order Apple products online. Compounding the problem was the fact that the actual retail space, while in an excellent location, is entirely underground. That doesn’t provide a lot of opportunity for window displays or daylight, which is why Bohn decided to create a sort of skylight on steroids:
“How do you motivate people to come down into a space like this?” Bohlin wondered. The answer was to make the cube into a giant skylight. “There has always been something magical about a glass building,” he said.
The arrangement, said Cywinski, created a “ceremony of descent.” Instead of being put off by entering a basement store, people feel ennobled, as though making an entrance into a grand house. The sleek glass container becomes “both symbol and portal.”
People now flutter around the Cube like moths, as though unable to resist a mirage. The 32-foot-high vestibule contains a round glass elevator wrapped by a spiral staircase, also entirely made of glass and twinkling like an ice sculpture. Customers will line up just to shoot down one flight in a glass cylinder.
It’s Bohlin’s belief that a well-designed building will “enable people to discover things” about themselves and their desires. “The architecture creates a kind of choreography.”
Well. Okay. I’ve been there and I didn’t exactly dance up and down the spiral stairs, maybe because I was convinced everything was going to shatter around me from the clomping foot traffic of so many tourists, but I’ll admit it’s a pretty cool glass box from the street level.