It's not only soaring skyscrapers: More humble architecture also exists in New York City. And just because it’s smaller doesn’t make it any less distinct. Example: the oft-photographed Apple glass cube on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. Though this structure has been under renovation since early 2017, it will finally reopen to the public on Friday, September 20.
In many ways, the dream of modernist architecture can be softly wrapped in pure glass: Think I.M. Pei’s Louvre pyramid, for example, whose structure has a distinct similarity to Apple’s cube. Designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with Apple, the cube persuades visitors to leave the bustling streets of an exciting city and enter a space of artificial light below. No matter if it’s world-class art or new gadgets: People need all the incentive possible to be shuttled underground. For Apple, this manifested itself in its now-iconic cubed entrance.
Unveiled in 2006, Apple's cube (coupled with Apple’s popular products) and its highly visible location at Central Park’s southeast corner on Fifth Avenue meant that dizzyingly long lines would form, particularly when new devices were unveiled or before the holiday season rush. What’s more, once visitors finally made their way into the space, it still felt as if they were in a subterranean environment. Apple’s multi-year renovation addressed both issues.
The cube was torn down and remade in much the same way as before, albeit with a slightly redesigned stairway and elevator. But visitors will notice much less congestion. And that’s because Apple has included two sidewalk-level entrances on either side of the plaza, allowing those who don’t care for making a grand entrance easy access to the store. The plaza above the store now features 18 shiny skylights known as Skylenses (a term Apple has coined for them). For those passing by, the impression these portals give is unmistakable as they reflect blue skies, scudding clouds, and a series of their vertical cousins surrounding the plaza. Below, however, is where the effect can best be realized. The portholes, which are highly reflective, will allow light in while protecting the privacy of the customers below. So while visitors below will be receiving the benefits of additional natural lighting, those walking around the plaza will be afforded the opportunity to sit on the Skylenses. “We wanted to completely dematerialize the roof of the store and flood the interior space with daylight,” says Stefan Behling, the head of studio at Foster + Partners. “The Skylenses literally bring the skies underground, and the innovative tunable white-light ceiling allows us to match the exact wavelengths of sunlight at different times of day, blurring the boundary between inside and outside.”
“The Fifth Avenue store means a great deal to me personally,” says Jony Ive, Apple's chief design officer. “Originally, it was about solving the challenging problem of getting light down to a sub-terrain space: Our solution with the glass cube eventually became iconic.” At a point when retail appears to be on a slow downward slide, Apple’s store appear to be busy as ever.
Much of this is due to its popular products and ability to keep us interested when it unveils new devices. But it’s undeniable that the Fifth Avenue location steals our attention with its stunning design. Apple’s cube has unlocked the beauty and mystery of superior architecture: Glowing, and filled with natural light, the cube has become inextricable from its surroundings. For many, it’s now impossible to imagine the southeast corner of Central Park without it.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest