How do you improve on an icon? That’s the challenge Apple tackled to complete its most extensive store renovation to date. Apple Fifth Avenue and its 32-foot glass cube entrance have returned to New York City. Ahead of the famous store’s reopening, timed to coincide with the release of the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and Apple Watch Series 5, Apple gave us a sneak peek inside.
It takes great restraint and judgement to tastefully update a store like Apple Fifth Avenue. Though dwarfed by the skyscrapers surrounding it, the glass cube has been a modern monument in New York City for the past 13 years. Altering its appearance significantly would be almost akin to rewriting history. So when Apple peeled away the temporary iridescent wrappings that announced the store’s return earlier this month, it revealed a cube that looked remarkably familiar. The entrance still features 15 glass panes (down from 90 before 2011) and a hanging illuminated Apple logo. But that’s where the similarities end.
Make no mistake, Apple Fifth Avenue is a totally new store. The site was literally a hole in the ground two years ago, as crews completely demolished the old space and started over. Apple worked closely with Foster + Partners to create a top store for New York City, and the first thing you’ll notice about the reimagined space is a more inviting plaza.
62 circular lights dot the new plaza in a grid surrounding the cube. During the day, the lamps add texture to what would otherwise be empty paving and allow light to flood in underground. At night, they illuminate the plaza with an ambient glow. A subset of these lights — 9 on each side of the cube — rise out of the ground as clear skylights called “sky lenses” that peer down into the store. The fixture bases are sculpted from the same stone as the plaza and capped by reflective capsules doubling as public seating. The detail and dimension of each skylight is stunning — like a human iris staring into the Manhattan sky.
Beyond the lights, narrow stone walkways bridge a bubbling pool on both sides of the plaza. These channels partition off two seating areas filled with round-cornered stone benches and honey locust trees bordering 58th and 59th Streets. Two side entrances have also been added. Staircases near the GM Building side of the plaza wrapped by stone planters descend into the store below.
While locals may use the new side entrances for quicker access, visitors and tourists making a trip to see the store will still want to enter through the iconic cube. A new staircase with cantilevered metal treads and a curved glass handrail spirals underground. The staircase has a rectangular grid texture for added traction, and the elimination of glass treads makes it easier to navigate for those with low vision. An elevator shaft of mirrored stainless steel, a new favorite material finish for Apple, rises from the center of the stairs.
Apple says that it has dramatically increased the height of the store and nearly doubled its square footage. The expansions makes Apple Fifth Avenue the largest Apple Store in the world. At grand opening in May 2006, just under 300 employees staffed the original store. Today, the space will host a team of 900 speaking 36 different languages.
The original Apple Fifth Avenue was a relatively standard Apple Store concealed by a remarkable entrance. The new Apple Fifth Avenue is remarkably special above and below ground. Two rows of indoor trees meet your eye at the foot of the stairs. A green walls behind the staircase provides a natural backdrop for the Genius Grove and additional seating. For the first time since Santa Monica’s Apple Third Street Promenade, Apple is using double-length tables throughout.
The main volume of the store is defined by one expansive room lined by an array of Avenues, Apple’s name for its interactive display shelving. Thanks to the store’s length, Apple is able to display an unprecedented quantity of products and third-party accessories for one location. Walls at the north and south ends of the store open to sculpted staircase entries.
To allow more natural light underground, a unique ceiling solution has been designed for the skylights that dot the plaza. Most recent Apple Stores use a plank ceiling or narrow lengths of fabric stretched over light boxes. Apple Fifth Avenue’s ceiling is divided into a grid with circular cutouts trumpeting upward to reveal the sky. The store’s artificial lights respond to natural rhythm of the sunlight by gradually shifting color temperature throughout the day.
Apple Fifth Avenue is the first Apple Store in the world to include not one, but two Boardrooms for private events and meetings with creators. A section of staircase tread and a glass panel offer a closer look at the design and engineering work behind the new space. The store is also the second in the United States and third in the world to feature what Apple calls an Experience Room, a custom space designed to highlight how Apple’s products and services work together. The Experience Room on Fifth Avenue is Apple’s most in-depth yet. The space creates a secluded area with HomePods and leather benches set up to demo Apple Music in a quieter environment. Furniture and fixtures in the Experience Room are selected from the same library used to outfit the Boardrooms.
New Avenue displays featuring Apple’s latest products have been introduced at Apple Fifth Avenue. The store includes merchandising dedicated to Apple Arcade, Apple Watch Series 5 bands, and new iPhone 11 models. The photography Avenue has been redesigned with a backdrop perfect for selfies with the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera system. The store is also the first in the world to introduce an Avenue dedicated to showcasing AirPods. Placed on a musical staff, AirPods compose the notes from Apple’s famous “Think Different” ad.
At the store’s northern end nearest 59th Street, you’ll find a video wall and Forum. This is the new home base for Today at Apple in New York City, where Apple says it is “Always Open to Open Minds.” Since 2016, Apple has been hosting creative sessions and performances with artists at Apple Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but Apple Fifth Avenue brings a stage for top talent to Midtown Manhattan.
“Fifth Avenue Creates” kicks off Today at Apple at the cube from September 21-29 with exclusive performances and the opportunity to use New York City as the palette to learn a new skill. Expect more unique sessions to continue in the future at the 24-hour store. Apple’s former temporary space on Fifth Avenue was one of just six locations across the world recently picked to host a limited-run augmented reality [AR]T Walk.
Since the iPod era, the glass cube has been a staple of every new Apple product launch and the face of launch day excitement. An iconic location deserves a store built to stand the test of time, and Apple put its best foot forward. Apple Fifth Avenue reopens in Manhattan on September 20 at 8:00 a.m.
Images: Michael Steeber
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