Among environmentally sensitive architects and interior designers it is common to hear how their design for a new space or building takes cues from the environment around it. On the flip side, conventional designers, eager to make their mark, often inject their own ideas of what a new space should become, instead of referencing, or in some cases, acquiecing to already-existing elements. When I first saw the all-black scaffolding obscuring one of the two giant mezzanines in Grand Central emblazoned with a giant white apple, I was nervous. Would the forthcoming Apple store be some kind of cheesy monstrosity? Or just clash terribly with the circa 1913 building?
I happened to be passing through on Friday, December 9th, the day the new store opened, and I was prepared to deride and criticize Apple’s use of the Victorian-era space, which is one of my favorites in New York. I’ve been using the terminal since I was 3 ½ years old and I remember when it was grungy and dark and frankly, a bit scary.
And I also remember when they restored the terminal to its current glory, a 4.5 million dollar facelift that was completed in 1998. When I first saw how beautiful it was again, I cried, and I still marvel at such a glorious space that’s open to all, and standing in that place of countless movie meetings and personal goodbyes, I always, always get a bit misty.
But time marches on, and so I was prepared for the worst; some giant glass apple or abstract smoked glass space dividers cutting off the mezzanine, where the store lives, from the rest of the terminal. I'm genuinely pleased to have been completely wrong in my expectations; Apple’s chief designers respected the space, basically removing everything that wasn’t Grand Central (from the previous restaurant that had existed there) and simply setting up those long tables they have in all their stores, with iPads, iPhones, Macbooks and iPods illumed on top. Nothing crazy, nothing that takes away from the classically gorgeous lines and glow that is Grand Central. And what could be more eco-friendly than not adding what's unnecessary? What could be greener than going minimal with construction and materials?
The ubiquitous Apple apple glows serenely from a stairway facade, but other than that, the space is clean, open and even with the plenty of traffic that is Grand Central's day-to-day, pretty easy to navigate. It totally works, both aesthically and practically. New meets vintage in the best possible way, which can be as difficult to pull off as a modern bride wearing her great-grandmother's wedding dress. But Apple fits perfectly into the refined space, its devices glowing enticingly. But the graceful curves of the terminal are still the thing.
On each of my two visits to the store, there were a plethora of Geniuses (there are two Genius Bars) and in rooms adjacent to the open mezzanine space, there's plenty more to check out, including accessories and whatnots, ultimately making this one of the largest Apple stores, at 23,000 feet.
According to Apple's site: "Beyond the balcony overlooking the expansive Main Concourse, the Apple Store Grand Central offers rooms dedicated to some of our most popular services, including the largest area in the world dedicated to Personal Setup. In the Personal Setup room, customers who buy an iPad®, iPhone, iPod® or Mac® can get up and running before they leave the store. There’s also a room designed especially for Personal Training, where new Mac owners learn the basics or take their skills to the next level as part of Apple’s popular $99 One to One program."
Nice job, Apple.