Apple Reopens Its NYC Flagship

John Hill
20. September 2019
All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

On Friday Apple reopened its 24-hour Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. The famous glass cube is back, accompanied by a redesigned interior and plaza courtesy of Foster + Partners.

Closed since January 2017, Apple Fifth Avenue finally opened at 8am on Friday, September 20, nearly one year behind schedule but on the same day the iPhone 11 was made available. This obviously intentional timing meant the newly designed plaza was covered with people waiting for their new phones and was therefore barely perceptible when World-Architects stopped by the same morning. Nevertheless, the expanded store holds many delights in its redesigned interior.

First completed in 2006, Apple's NYC Flagship occupies the formerly sunken plaza in front of the GM Building, designed by Edward Durell Stone and completed in 1968. Filled in by Donald Trump in the short period when he owned the building around the turn of the century, Apple moved in post-Trump and turned the public space near the southeast corner of Central Park into the most photographed spot in all of New York City, enabled by the glass cube designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

Flash forward to 2019, when BCJ gives way to Norman Foster, Apple's go-to architect for their high-profile stores. Here, at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, the glass cube is back, but the store beneath the plaza is dramatically different, with lots of natural light, a taller ceiling, and twice the square footage. Take a look at some photos from our visit on opening day. 

The plaza's large fountains are gone, replaced by smaller water features, trees, and a grid of skylights that bring natural light to the interior space below the plaza. Opening day at Apple Fifth Avenue coincided with the release of the iPhone 11, which meant lines of people waiting to pick up their new smartphones obscured most of the plaza.
The glass cube is its third iteration. The first, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and completed in 2006, featured nine glass panels per side and spider fittings holding them in place. Five years later the cube was simplified to three massive glass panels per side, supported by glass fins. The current cube appears to be a rebuilt version 2.0.
The glass cube popping above the plaza may be the same, but its interior is much different. Most notable are the mirrored surfaces at the edges of the opening, surfaces that are a bit disorienting during the gradual descent to the store.
Mirrored stainless steel also wraps the cylindrical elevator in the middle of the spiral stair, as well as the undersides of the stair treads. Compared to its previous iteration, the spiral stair makes one more turn, hinting at the taller height (about 8 feet) of the space beneath the plaza.
Flanking the spiral stair inside the store are trees and planted walls, echoing the addition of vegetation to the formerly barren plaza above.
The most significant feature in the store, seen here from the spiral stair, is the ceiling, which is made of a three-dimensional curved fabric to incorporate the plaza skylights.
In the middle of the grid of skylights on the north and south sides of the glass cube are nine "Skylenses," sculptural pieces that act as seating on the plaza and reflect the surrounding buildings when seen from below.
The skylight apertures incorporate artificial lighting that highlights the products on the display tables below.
The "Skylenses" are visible from below as mirrored cylinders with distorted reflections of the buildings that surround the plaza.

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