In 2006, Apple unwrapped sheets of black plastic to give the world its first glimpse of its new Fifth Avenue store in New York City: a 32-foot glass cube adorned with a floating white Apple logo leading to an underground space accessible via a glass elevator. The unconventional nature of its design definitely succeeded in its mission to grab attention, becoming the fifth most photographed icon in the city by 2010.
Two years after closing for renovations, the Apple Cube is back and better than ever. The landmark store has been transformed with the help of architecture firm Foster + Partners, who demolished the underground portion and started again from scratch.
Now, the cube is surrounded by a plaza full of 62 frosted round skylights, which themselves help natural light penetrate into the renovated store below, while 18 shiny metal “sky lenses” let passersby sit and gaze straight down at all the merchandise. The interiors are twice their former size and accessible from three sides, though the main entrance is still by far the most dazzling way to access the store.
The original staircase has been replaced by a stainless steel version spiraling around a glass cylinder-shaped elevator. Despite its subterranean location, the store itself is brightly day-lit and full of living greenery, including trees and planted walls. Tunable white LED lights on the ceiling automatically shift from cool to warm tones after dark, and there’s plenty of space to hang out, interact with the goods, talk to employees, or just take it all in.
Naturally, this flagship Apple store is mobbed with tourists at all times, so it’s not exactly the ideal choice for customers who just need to grab something quickly. Like all Apple stores, it doesn’t have checkout counters — you have to locate a wandering employee equipped with a handheld checkout iPod Touch to make a purchase. But you can probably avoid much of the hubbub by taking advantage of the fact that this location is always open. Amazingly enough, Apple employs 900 people at this store alone to keep it running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Fosters + Partners team calls the plaza “the perfect stage for celebrating Apple’s passions: photography, music, art and design, coding, and more. Wide steps along the edges invite people up into the space to gather in a bustling epicenter of urban life. Stone seaters shaded by trees and bordered by linear fountains along the edges of both 58th and 59th Streets create a place to rest and a quiet buffer from the busy traffic, alongside two discrete auxiliary entrances that enhance access to the store below.”
“A grand hall beneath the plaza matches the energy of the public square above, with a backlit, cloud-like ceiling made from a three-dimensional curved fabric [that] innovatively combines artificial and natural light to match the changing tones of daylight through the day — producing an experience that has never been achieved before.”
They add: “Even in low-light conditions, the intensity is higher around the skylights and gradually recedes away from it, giving the impression of natural light flooding the interior. A ring of lights around each skylight contains focus lighting that highlights the products on the display tables. The ventilation system is discreetly integrated within the stone floor and responds intelligently to the levels of occupancy and outdoor weather, optimizing energy usage.”
When the updated Cube was first unwrapped in early September, it still had a layer of protective plastic on the outside, giving it an awesome iridescent sheen. It’s kind of a shame the effect was only temporary.