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Architecture + Branding: Luxury marketplace requires brand to think different about its Apple Stores

1-This time it’s different

In 1997, in an effort to stave off impeding bankruptcy, Apple, and Steve Jobs, accepted a $150 million lifeline from arch-rival Bill Gates at
Microsoft (source: Bloomberg.com, cnet.com, engadget.com, forbes.com). In a world of increasingly generic PCs, Apple products remained different, and generally more expensive. However, convincing customers of Apple’s difference and value proposition fell largely in the hands of store clerks at countless big box stores such as, compUSA, Circuit City, Best Buy, and mass retailers like K-Mart, Target, and Wal-Mart.

Computers had made the leap from novelty items into the mainstream, and if Apple could not get the required attention, effort, and passion from sales staff, it would lose out on price to PCs (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Dedicated floor area and sales staff in a store-within-a-store  concept seemed like a viable solution, but were nevertheless abandoned (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson).

Steve Jobs concluded that the true answer was to “control the buying experience” (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Beginning with design to manufacture to point of sale, Apple needed to have control over the entire process, from start to the end-user.

Yet, it would not be the first computer maker to delve into retailing. Gateway2000, which like DELL, cut its teeth on the direct-to-consumer business model, had previously launched a chain of farm-styled retail stores called Gateway Country Stores to questionable results (source: wikipedia.org).

Conceptually different, Steve Jobs held to the belief that the stores would encourage customers to come in, touch, feel, and experience Apple products (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Akin to a skunkworks project, Steve Jobs, and a small contingent of trusted advisors, would work behind-the-scenes to bring the concept to fruition (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson).

2-Rewarding retail results

Whereas Gateway stores were located in suburban locales, where rents were less expensive and customers had to drive, Apple stores would be located in high foot-traffic areas, such as malls and on main streets (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Additionally, Steve Jobs held firmly to the notion that “it was important that customers intuitively grasp the layout of a store as soon as the entered” (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Furthermore, the store should have but a single entrance, and offer a full view of store at a glance (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson)

On May 19, 2001, the first Apple Store opened in Tysons Corner, Virginia (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, wikipedia.org). Compact, minimalist, with a limited colour and material palette, the store featured a mostly glass facade, light-toned walls, bleached wood floors, and gleaming white counters (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Emphasizing transparency, technically precise, and uncharacteristically tidy, the first Apple Store would usher in a new area in retailing.

AAPL Apple Mall Store US-VA-Tysons Corner Tysons Corner Center May 19 2001 opening

Apple Store (circa 2001), front 3/4 view, Tysons Corner Center, Tysons Corner, Virginia (source: wikipedia.org)

Quickly eclipsing Gateway stores in visits and revenues, the early successes lead to additional stores (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson).

AAPL Apple Mall Store US-CT-Farmington WestFarms Mall 500 W Farms Mall

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, WestFarms Mall,  Farmington, Connecticut (source: wikipedia.org)

Building upon the overall essence laid down by the first store, each additional store would invariably introduce incremental improvements, such as substituting the wood floors that “were beginning to look somewhat pedestrian” for stone, and swapping out gleaming white counters for wooden tables, that would become part of future stores (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson).

Open, inviting, and experiential, the stores allowed customers to engage with the products, thus creating a sense of ownership for customers, and affording them the opportunity to visualize themselves using the products.

Incorporating a culture of continual incremental improvements, 2006 ushered in a new store layout that jettisoned the dedicated point-of-sale (POS) station in favour of the handheld EasyPay system, and introduced surgical-grade stainless steel walls and backlit signage into the overall design (source: wikipedia.org, appleinsider.com).

AAPL Apple Mall Store US-FL-Brandon 459 Brandon Town Center Drive

Apple Store, front view, 459 Brandon Town Center Drive, Brandon, Florida (source: wikipedia.org)

20160514_124355 AAPL Apple Mall Store CA-QC-Pointe-Claire 6801 Transcanada Highway CF Fairview Pointe-Claire

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, CF Fairview Pointe-Claire, Pointe-Claire, Québec, Canada

In aggregate, the mall-based stores proposed a fairly regimented steel and glass facade, that afforded an unobstructed view towards the store’s interior, juxtaposed against interiors featuring clean walls, orderly wooden tables, and stone-lined floors (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Although not pure carbon copies from location to location, most malls and mall commercial retail units (CRUs) have a tendency to be rectilinear, and several mall owners may have some level of flexibility in carving out spaces of optimal geometry to suit particular tenant/retailer needs, even at the expense of relocating other tenants. As such, mall-based Apple Stores have a high propensity to be eerily similar in size, and shape.

3-Transposing the template

In theory, transposing the established mall-based aesthetic of metal and glass onto an exterior building facade should yield an instant store.

Apple Store 441 Chestnut Ridge Road Woodcliff Lake NJ 2 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 441 Chestnut Ridge Road, Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

However, when stepping outside the realms of enclosed shopping malls, buildings types, geometries and typologies are much more varied and nuanced. Additionally, various authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) may have some level of input, and exert some influence into the uses, modifications, and alterations made to an existing building, or new construction. Often times, this oversight is ever more finicky, guarded, and hesitant when it comes to desirable, high value/high foot-traffic areas, such as historic downtown areas, pedestrian malls, tourist enclaves, and traditional main streets, that would fit perfectly into the Apple Store ideal retail settings.

DSC11558 AAPL Apple Store US-NY-NYC 401 W 14th Street

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 401 W 14th Street, New York City, New York

Apple Store 267 Crocker Park Boulevard Westlake OH 2 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 267 Crocker Park Boulevard, Westlake, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

DSC01951 AAPL Apple Store CA-QC-Montreal 1321 Rue St-Catherine Ouest

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 1321 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montréal, Québec, Canada

In strip malls and retail power centres, Apple Stores can mostly consist of larger versions of their typical glass and metal-clad front facade focused enclosed mall stores.

Apple Store 1755 29th Street Boulder CO 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front view, 1755 29th Street, Boulder, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 17255 Davenport Street Omaha NE 1 2011 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 17255 Davenport Street, Omaha, Nebraska (source:maps.google.com)

Apple Store 1923 Calle Barcelona Carlsbad CA 2 2011 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 1923 Calle Barcelona, Carlsbad, California (source: maps.google.com)

Ganged together, and proposing but a single exterior elevation, the front facade, the singular aesthetic lends itself quite well to enclosed and open-air malls.

Apple Store 2015 Birch Road Chula Vista CA 2 https___www.google

Apple Store, front view, 2015 Birch Road, Chula Vista, California (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 17711 Chenal Parkway Little Rock AR 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 17711 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 13925 South Virginia Street Reno NV 3 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 13925 South Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)

Corner locations reinterpret the same formula with the added benefit of supplemental exterior wall surfaces. Yet, the store design that lends primacy to the interior space, layout and flow, the extra wall surfaces are generally ignored, left largely blank, unadorned, and thus, offer little embellishment to compete with the front entrance/facade.

Apple Store 679 North Michigan Avenue Chicago IL 5 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 679 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 679 North Michigan Avenue Chicago IL 2 https___www.google

Apple Store, side 3/4 view, 679 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 4860 Bethesda Avenue Bethesda MD 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 4860 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 1 Stockton Street San Francisco CA 2 2014 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 1 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 1301 Burlingame Avenue Burlingame CA 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 1301 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame, California (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 1301 Burlingame Avenue Burlingame CA 3 https___www.google

Apple Store, rear 3/4 view, 1301 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame, California (source: maps.google.com)

In other instances, Apple Stores tone down the brand design, and blend into the existing milieu. Displaying a design sensitivity to the existing heritage and surroundings, Apple Stores are nonetheless stark, clean, mostly unadorned facades, that stress storefront transparency through the extensive use of glass.

Apple Store 356 Greenwich Avenue Greenwich CT 4 2008 https___www.google

Future Apple Store (circa 2008), front 3/4 view, 356 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 356 Greenwich Avenue Greenwich CT 5 2012 https___www.google

Apple Store (circa 2012), front 3/4 view, 356 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 301 King Street Charleston SC 2 2007 https___www.google

Future Apple Store (circa 2007), front view, 301 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 301 King Street Charleston SC 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front view, 301 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 4422 Cedar Park Drive Beavercreek OH 3 2007 https___www.google

Future Apple Store (circa 2007), front 3/4 view, 4422 Cedar Park Drive, Beavercreek, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 4422 Cedar Park Drive Beavercreek OH 2 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 4422 Cedar Park Drive, Beavercreek, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

However, Apple seems just as likely to blow up the past and start over anew, showing an equal lack of concern for heritage, and vernacular architecture.

Apple Store 710 West Main Avenue Spokane WA 3 2008 https___www.google

Future Apple Store (circa 2008), front 3/4 view, 710 West Main Avenue, Spokane, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 710 West Main Avenue Spokane WA 2 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 710 West Main Avenue, Spokane, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 3018 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis MN 4 2007 https___www.google

Future Apple Store (circa 2007), front 3/4 view, 3018 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 3018 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis MN 3 2011 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 3018 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

4-Constructing crystal palaces

At the turn of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution brought numerous technological advances into the mainstream. Previously limited to small panes, the invention of the cast plate-glass method in 1848 meant that large sheets of strong glass could be produced economically (source: wikipedia.org). Seizing on the opportunity to showcase this new-found technology, a massive cast-iron and plate-glass structure was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 (source: wikipedia.org). Measuring just shy of 1,000,000 square feet of enclosed space, the technical and engineering feat that was the Crystal Palace, awed its visitors with its glass walls and ceilings, and its absence of supplemental mechanical light sources (source: wikipedia.org).

AAPL Crystal Palace UK-London-Hyde Park

Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London, England (source: fastcodesign.com)

AAPL Crystal Palace UK-London-Hyde Park

Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London, England (source: britannica.com)

Akin to the manner in which the Crystal Palace capitalized on, and showcased, the invention and potential cast plate-glass, recent advances in glass manufacturing meant that larger uninterrupted expanses of glass would soon be commercially available. Known for being unafraid to push boundaries, challenge preconceived notions, and adopt new processes and technologies, a watershed moment for Apple Stores would soon occur.

Combining many of Steve Jobs passions, “a cube, a signature staircase, glass, and making a maximum statement through minimalism”, and architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the subterranean flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, NY, opened in 2006 (source: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, bcj.com,).

A technical marvel, the above ground portion of the store makes extensive use of glass for the exterior walls, roof, floor, stairs, and elevator, while the below ground portion maintains many of the familial markings of the mall-based stores that came before it. Although the main retail space is set below grade, the 32-foot tall glass cube transforms the space into a welcoming, airy, light filled volume.

DSC11517 AAPL Apple Store US-NY-NYC 767 Fifth Avenue

Apple Store, front view, 767 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York

DSC11521 AAPL Apple Store US-NY-NYC 767 Fifth Avenue

Apple Store, side 3/4 view, 767 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York

Instantly iconic, the lessons learned from the Fifth Avenue store would influence the design, and the use of glass in future stores.

AAPL Apple Store China-Shanghai-Lujiazui Pudong District No8 Century Avenue IFC Mall

Apple Store, No.8 Century Avenue IFC Mall, Lujiazui, Pudong District, Shanghai, China (source: wikipedia.org)

Pushing the technical limits of glass farther forward,  Apple stores have increasingly adopted more expansive, and expressive, glass into their elevations whilst minimizing, and slimming down, the familiar metal cladding.

20150919_145446 AAPL Apple Store CA QC Brossard 9120 boul. Leduc

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 9120 boulevard Leduc, Brossard, Québec, Canada

Apple Store 815 Boylston Street Boston MA 5 https___www.google

Apple Store, front view, 815 Boylston Street, Boston, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Apple Store 340 University Avenue Palo Alto CA 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front view, 340 University Avenue, Palo Alto, California (source: maps.google.com)

DSC13515 AAPL Apple Store US-OR-Portland 450 SW Yawmill Street

Apple Store, 450 SW Yawmill Street, Portland, Oregon

Apple Store 4012 Westheimer Road Houston TX 1 https___www.google

Apple Store, front view, 4012 Westheimer Road, Houston, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

5-Luxury ambitions

Praised or panned, the Apple Store, as a retail concept, has so far stood the test of time, proved cynics and critics wrong, and outlasted several rivals.

DSC10371 APPL Sony Store CA-QC-Montreal Marche Central

SONY store (CLOSED), front 3/4 view, Marché Central, Montréal, Québec, Canada

However, where others encountered failure, Apple blazed its own trail. And with said success came challenges. Competitors such as Microsoft, and Samsung have embarked on similar retail-focused strategies, either through a store-within-a-store (Samsung Experience at Best Buy) approach, or establishing their own retail imprints (Microsoft stores).

DSC13541 AAPL Microsoft Store US-OR-Portland 300 SW Yawmill Street

Microsoft store, front 3/4 view, 300 SW Yawmill Street, Portland, Oregon

DSC13319 AAPL Microsoft Store US-WA-Seattle Pacific Place

Microsoft store, Pacific Place, Seattle, Washington

Additionally, China has been home to several “fake” Apple stores replete with equally “fake” Apple products (source: wired.com, http://finance.sympatico.ca). “Apple-esque” has joined the descriptors when referring to a retail store that emulates the cool, stark, and clean Apple Store design.

Apple Store 1823 4th Street Berkely CA 2 2015 https___www.google

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 1823 4th Street, Berkeley, California (source: maps.google.com)

AAPL Apple Mall Store US-GA-Atlanta Lenox Square 3393 Peachtree Road

Apple Store, interior view, Lenox Square, Atlanta, Georgia (source: wikipedia.org)

Mindful to protect their unique architectural identity and trade dress, in 2013, Apple secured trademark protection on its mall-centric, rectangular store layouts from the US Patent & Trademark Office for its retail store designs (source: wired.com, architectmagazine.com, qz.com, dezeen.com, patentlyapple.com) The company has equally sought to protect the glass cube as a retail entrance pavilion concept (source: architectmagazine.com)

Apple challenged the script, and won, registering staggering dollars per square foot ($/sq.ft.) numbers, and becoming the envy of mall owners. In an effort to maintain that momentum, pricing advantage over Windows-based PCs which have long been commoditized, and to coincide with its foray into new product categories, Apple brought in Angela Ahrendts to help propel the brand into the luxury realm (source: nytimes.com, cnbc.com, recode.net). Shortly thereafter, in May 2015, Jonathan Ive became chief design officer, effectively taking over full control of Apple’s design department (source: dezeen.com).

In late 2015, the Apple Store Brussels, at 26-28 Avenue de la Toison d’Or, would be the first to showcase the new interior design direction, and product mix that would result from the Ive and Ahrendts collaboration (source: dezeen.com, bgr.com, theverge.com, techinsider.io). Extending the trends of minimal colour, limited material palettes, light-toned walls, wooden benches and glass facades, the design is largely familiar, and recognizable, yet insert live trees, and walls surfaces finished off in clay brick and wood, makes the space less stark (source: dezeen.com, theverge.com, techinsider.io).

AAPL Apple Store BEL Brussels 26-28 Avenue de la Toison d'Or Inside

Apple Store, interior view, 26-28 Avenue de la Toison d’Or, Brussels, Belgium (source: techinsider.io)

Housed in a newly constructed building, the exterior features double height panes of glass that curves around the corner of the building, and a big white Apple logo hanging over the entrance (source: dezeen.com, techinsider.io, the verge.com).

AAPL Apple Store BEL Brussels 26-28 Avenue de la Toison d'Or Outside

Apple Store, front 3/4 view, 26-28 Avenue de la Toison d’Or, Brussels, Belgium (source: techinsider.io)

Likely to be rolled out to other stores, Brussels offers a glimpse of what Apple stores will begin to look like in the very near future, as Apple seeks to renovate, and build out additional stores (source: bgr.com). Far from complacent, and essentially upping the ante against itself by building more grandiose, and more opulent stores that simultaneously push the boundaries of engineering and construction, Apple may well continue to stay ahead of the competition, incorporate incremental improvements across its store portfolio, and steadily push further upmarket.

 

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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