Apple vs. Apple

Seems the Big Apple can't quite handle the architectural stylings of that other Apple. The New York Times ran an article yesterday that discussed a new Apple store proposed for the old Andrews Coffee Shop at 5th Ave and 19th Street:

But if Apple hopes to get its plans for a retail store approved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, the preservationists at least want the building to bear some of the architectural basics of its neighbors. Plans for the site, in the Ladies' Mile Historic District, are subject to commission approval.

Apple's first plan, to simply replace the aluminum-framed storefront of what had been the Andrews Coffee Shop with a gray limestone facade - its logo of a large once-bitten apple etched into the stone - ran into opposition from Community Board 5, a local advisory body. Its second proposal, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a nonprofit preservation group, "presents this flat pane of glass that would be more appropriate to an aquarium."

Let's examine the facts. This is probably one of Apple's medium size streetfront stores, like this one in California, not a huge flagship store like the existing one in SoHo. Apple has a strong retail architecture which is extremely consistent. It is a little unorthodox in terms of rebuilding the entire facade with a minimalist modern look, but that's their product and in most retail environments it is a real improvement. Most big brands now have their own architecture anyways -- visit Fifth Ave in the 50s, or Oxford Street, or Tokyo's best areas. Everyone is doing it. Remember Prada?

The proposed area is historic but the site certainly is not. The actual "Ladies Mile" was not on Fifth Ave but Broadway, and the great historic department stores of the era, that truly invented the entire concept of a department store, are on 23rd Street or Sixth Ave. Examine for a moment the actual facades around the site in question -- thanks to the wonders of A9, you can do that by clicking here and then moving left and right up the block. There is a lot of bulky limestone, and a lot of tacky awnings for Lenscrafters and delis. The immediate neighbours are not architecturally significant.

If Apple were to propose gutting a substantial building with a historic facade it would be one thing. But to take the worst storefront on the block and update it with glass is not worthy of bureaucratic opposition. Putting a fake historic pastiche on the site would be a lie and not serve anyone. Cities change, and sometimes contrasting that change can have benefits. A couple years ago the Harvard Club on 44th Street went through a gut-wrenching debate over an addition. Should the old red-brick facade be faked up and copied, even though no one builds that way anymore, or should a minimalist glass facade be constructed instead to highlight the older buildings around it? The decision was to go with the glass, and I think people were pleasantly surprised with the result.

My point is, when presented with a non-historic site in a historic district, what better way to highlight the beauty of the older buildings than by building an invisible glass wall that delicately inserts modernism while reflecting, literally, the history around it through comparison? Apple has the right idea. Landmarks is wrong on this one.


Blogger UTEKRYNK said...

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12:25 AM  

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