Apple Stores

A bushel of words

Apple sneers at the term “flagship store.” It prefers the word “landmark,” and with good reason: The designs of many of the Apple Stores are arguably more impressive than the design of Apple’s computers, consumer electronics, Web and software products.

Apple is building a new landmark store to replace the original “flagship” store on University Avenue in Palo Alto, just a couple of blocks from where I live. It is expected to open late this year. As with other Apple landmark stores, the new Palo Alto store is designed to make its interior almost completely visible to the street and sky. It is expected to resemble the new Apple Store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which looks like this:

APPLE’S UPPER WEST SIDE STORE. STEVE WOULD HAVE HATED THE BICYCLE TETHERED OUT FRONT.

James Russell, writing in The Architect’s Newspaper, described the Upper West Side store thusly:

The mullion-free glass walls ascend 40 feet high to meet the gently vaulted all-glass roof with an almost invisible joint. . . . The all-glass roof is an exercise in bravura minimalism, engineered by James O’Callaghan, of London-based Eckersley O’Callaghan. He mounted fritted, insulating- glass panels on thin metal purlins that incorporate lighting, and (invisibly) sprinklers and security systems.

MULLIONS, TRANSOMS: AS CLEAR AS GLASS.

mullion is a vertical structural element which divides adjacent window units. It is not to be confused with a transom, which is the horizontal crosspiece. (A horizontal window over a door is also called a transom, through which unsolicited manuscripts arrive at an agent’s or editor’s office.) Notice how the glass panels of the Apple Store walls come together almost seamlessly? Less-fastidious designers would have called for mullions and transoms.

Fritted insulating glass panels are panels that are silk-screened with a ceramic paints to reduce solar heat gain on warm days or insulate against heat loss on cold days. The ceramic frit paint can be applied in a pattern or design. The glass is also laminated to provide extra strength. (By the way, pigeon poop and urban grime are removed from the glass roof by human window washers, not robots.) Purlins are the long, horizontal supports that rest atop the beams, or rafters, which are anchored in the store’s stone walls. The glass panels of the roof are supported by the purlins. In the Apple Store, the overhead lighting is integrated into the purlins. They look like this:

PURLINS OVERHEAD CARRY LIGHTING, SPRINKLERS AND SECURITY CAMERAS.

The ultimate effect of all this is to remove barriers between the customer and the merchandise. Apple strips away all extraneous structures and impediments until what is left is the pure retail experience. It is one large room, creating the impression of an outdoor market, with natural light illuminating the simple, blonde, blocky tables on which the products are displayed like art museum artifacts. Even the checkout counters are minimized. Sales are conducted by T-shirted employees carrying modified iPods. (Is that a cash register in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?) The ratio of employees to shoppers is probably unprecedented except in high-end jewelry stores and Maserati dealerships.

No wonder Apple ranks No. 1 in retail sales per square foot among the top 160 or so North American-based retail chains, according to the retail analysis firm RetailSails. Apple’s $5,626 a foot is nearly double the return of its next-closest competitor, Tiffany & Co.

Quote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” — Michelangelo

Quote: “We have always succeeded by first doing the right thing. The profits have followed.” — Ron Johnson, former senior VP of retail sales at Apple.

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