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Apple Store SoHo

The perfect setting

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There's hardly a setting more perfect for Apple's largest retail computer store to date than The Big Apple itself. Still, when it came to designing the SoHo flagship, Apple ceo Steve Jobs took every opportunity to challenge designers with the question, “Is this the best?”

“No client ever asks, 'Is this the best?'” says Ronnette Riley, principal at Ronnette Riley Architect (New York) and associate architect on the project. “But it was just one challenge after another: 'Is this the best staircase? Is this the best table, the best ceiling?'”

Lead architect Peter Bohlin, principal of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (Berkeley, Calif.), adds that Jobs'approach to designers is “extraordinarily liberating and encouraging.”

In fact, Jobs'hands-on attention and appreciation for detail was just the right impetus for both architecture firms as they collaborated on modifying Apple's successful prototype store design, which had been launched in May 2001 in various markets around the country, into a larger, urban store for the computer retailer.

Apple chose a 1920s neo-classical, two-story building built by Thomas Lamb on New York's Prince Street as home for its first urban location, and began construction in February 2002 on the 18,000-square-foot store. Since SoHo marked Apple's entry into the larger format, designers had to create a prototype that not only reflected the company and its products, but could also be repeated in additional cities. “It should be somewhat ethereal, it should be rather delicate and it should not overpower the products,” explains Bohlin. “And here, we knew we were not just dealing with one store, but setting a pattern for other stores.”

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To overcome another challenge – drawing customers to the store's second floor – designers came up with a glassy solution: a levitating glass staircase, bridge and skylight system. The skylight runs from the front of the store to the second-floor theater in back and is visible from the first level through an opening in the second floor. “In this very modern, very crisp space you see through the skylight to the water towers and brick and cast-iron buildings of SoHo,” says Riley. “It's this incredible juxtaposition of the old and new, plus this very modern store is inside this landmark building.”

The 15-foot-high staircase consists of custom low-iron, laminated glass stair sidewalls and balustrade panels, acid-etched diamond-plate treads for safety and stainless-steel fittings. The 70-foot-long skylight is composed of 12 custom-fritted 8-by-12-foot glass panels, stainless-steel frames and kingpost and tensile rod fittings. A 15-by-6-foot glass bridge with truss and clevis fittings spans the opening on the second floor, connecting both sides of the store.

Bohlin explains that glass elements are there not only because of their structural ingenuity, but also because they capture the design of Apple and its products. “From the point of view of the attitude and spirit of the store, it is the pure expression of a quality associated with a company that makes these very beautiful, rather pure products,” he says.

While the glass elements represent the new, urban Apple, several of the store's elements were derived from the prototypes, where concepts were first tested. For example, maple furniture throughout the space, including benches, tables and shelving units, adds warmth to the cool store palette. Simple custom tables display Apple computers and equipment, while peripheral products, such as digital cameras, are displayed on round white Corian fixtures.

On the first floor, products are organized into Solution Zones – including movies, music and photography – by white opaque dye, striped glass partitions and wall-hung graphic panels. Unlike previous Apple retail stores, the flooring on the first level was changed from maple to 900-square-inch Pietra Serna stone tiles to give the two-story space a sense of grounding.

On the second floor, 14 stools and computer stations for the younger Apple crowd are placed in the children's area, while nearby is the 40-foot maple wood Genius Bar where parents and adults can find actual “genius” technicians to answer questions. The back of the building houses a 46-seat theater-type area where product demonstrations, free classes and “Made on Mac” events are held for customers.

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Apple will continue to open new urban stores, including one in Chicago next summer, and Bohlin and Riley say that the SoHo location was a successful launching point. “I think Apple has always been on the forefront of modern innovation and style,” adds Riley. “And I think what Steve Jobs achieved here was a very modern, crisp, clean, forward-thinking store.”

Client Team: Apple, Cupertino, Calif. – Steve Jobs, ceo; Ron Johnson, senior vp

Design Team: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Berkeley, Calif. and Pittsburgh – Peter Bohlin, design principal; Jon Jackson, principal-in-charge; Karl Backus, project manager; Rosa Sheng, project architect; Ben McDonald, Colleen Caulliez, Michael Waltner, design team; Ronnette Riley Architect, New York – Ronnette Riley, principal, associate architect/architect-of-record; Mark Brungo, project architect; Yumi Moriwaki, job captain; Dan Williams, design team; Eight Inc., San Francisco – Tim Kobe, Wilhelm Oehl, principals

General Contractor: JT Magen & Co. Inc., New York

Outside Design Consultants: Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners PC, New York and London, in association with Goldreich Engineering PC, New York (structural engineering); Flack & Kurtz Inc., San Francisco (MEP engineering); Seele-USA, Chicago, TriPyramid Structures Inc., Westford, Mass. (staircase, bridge, skylight); Depp Glass, Long Island City, N.Y. (staircase and bridge); ISP Design Inc., Miami (lighting); Emmaco Prentiss Inc., San Marino, Calif. (security/data/AV)

Suppliers: DuPont, Wilmington, Del. (Corian fixtures, special surfacing); Fetzer's Inc., Salt Lake City (graphic panels, cabinetwork, custom woodwork); Thomas Swan, Los Angeles, Dale Travis Associates, New York (signage); B&N Industries, San Carlos, Calif. (cable display system); A. Zahner Co., St. Louis (metal panel system); Walker-Zanger, Sylmar, Calif., Buchtal, Alpharetta, Ga. (floor and wall tile); Carlisle Lumber, Stoddard, N.H. (maple plank flooring); Azrock, Whitehall, Pa. (VCT flooring); Modular Intl. Inc., Pittsburgh, ERCO Lighting Inc., Edison, N.J., Alkco Lighting, Franklin Park, Ill., Cooper, Peachtree City, Ga. (lighting); Herman Miller, Zeeland, Mich. (furniture); Bloomsberg, New York, Larsen Ruckstuhl, Union, N.J., Prince Street, Atlanta (carpet); StretchWall, Long Island City, N.Y., Fabritrak, South River, N.J. (wallcoverings); The Sherwin Williams Co., Cleveland (paints and stains); Newmat, Haubourdin Cedex, France, Gordon Inc., Bossier City, La. (acoustical ceiling); USG Interiors, Chicago (suspension grid); Pionite, Auburn, Maine (plastic laminate)

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Photos: Dub Rogers, New York; Elliott Kaufman, New York

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