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Architectural Details: Brooklyn’s First Apple Store

Pat Finn Pat Finn

Brooklyn is without a doubt the most culturally relevant place in the world … at least according to the people who live here. Over the past decade, Brooklyn has become a flashpoint for a number of major trends, including craft beer, beards and most of all that elusive cultural archetype known as thehipster. Now the world’s biggest tech company wants a piece of the action. This past Saturday, Apple opened its first store within the city’s finest boroughin the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood, just a few blocks from the highly trafficked Bedford L Train Stop. The only question is: What took them so long?

The exterior of the newest Apple store is understated, industrial and quintessentially “Brooklyn.”

This reporter was lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the new location this past Friday, during a special “friends and family” preview event. True to Brooklyn’s reputation for originality, I found that this Apple store is like none other in the world. Like everything else Apple has created, the store was carefully planned right down to the smallest detail, producing a consumer experience that feels almost micromanaged. Make no mistake: This is a good thing.

Like Williamsburg itself, the new Apple store is marked by a laid-back vibe.

While the typical Apple store conveys a sense of icy futurism, the design for this space — conceived by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and architect of record Marin Architects — drew on existing architectural details to evoke a warm, inviting mood. In this sense it is similar to other locations in New York, such as the Grand Central Terminal and Upper East Side Apple stores, both of which emphasize the rich character of the historic Beaux Arts buildings they inhabit.

Those stores are sophisticated, ornate and prototypically “Manhattan.” The Williamsburg Apple store, in contrast, eschews Beaux Arts refinement for a rustic warehouse feel. It speaks to the artisanal spirit that marks so much of the creative life in Brooklyn.

The display shelves along the store’s walls are called “avenues.” They are designed to mimic the experience of department store window shopping, a classic New York pastime.

While this building may have the feel of a “converted warehouse,” it has actually been subject to fairly extensive renovations, which were described to me in detail by an anonymous source within Apple. The arches in the front of the building were inspired by the original entrances to the warehouse space but were extended to be taller.

Similarly, only one of store’s vintage-looking brick walls is actually vintage. The others were made of bricks carefully molded to match the color and texture of the bricks in the original wall. Apparently, someone was hired to inspect each individual brick to make sure it met the project’s specifications. As a result, the illusion is seamless: I spent much of my evening trying to identify the original wall and came up empty.

In keeping with the warehouse aesthetic, the floors of the building are made of polished concrete, rather than stone, which is the material Apple usually likes to use for its retail floors. The floors of most Apple stores are made of stone taken from the exact same mountain near Florence, Italy, a detail that Steve Jobs famously insisted on.

Each of the tables in this store casts an identical, symmetrical shadow thanks to the positioning of the pendant lights.

The stone floors may be missing, but Jobs’ legacy of perfectionism is alive and well in this store. My source pointed out to me that each of the display tables casts an identical, symmetrical shadow thanks to the careful positioning of refurbished pendant light fixtures. In addition, the store’s timber ceiling was designed to absorb sound, ridding the cavernous space of pesky echoes. Indeed, although there were hundreds of people at the opening event I attended, the room felt oddly quiet, even intimate. I found myself wishing that Penn Station had this kind of timber ceiling.

Refurbished industrial light fixtures hang from a sound-absorbing timber ceiling; photo by Pat Finn.

The layout of this store is designed to maximize the customer experience by promoting engagement with the merchandise. The built-in display shelves around the store’s walls are called “avenues” by the staff, reflecting the company’s desire to create a “window shopping” experience for customers. The most exciting thing about the avenues is that customers are encouraged to test all of the products on display. “We found that customers were 30 percent more likely to buy products that they had an opportunity to test,” said my source.

The main floor includes one large showroom and a smaller side room. The avenues along the walls of the main showroom feature Apple Watches as well as iPad and iPhone accessories, while the avenues in the smaller room feature quirkier products, including drones, game accessories and educational software. Audiophiles will be delighted at the opportunity to test numerous different kinds of headphones in the smaller showroom.

The avenues are designed to slide in and out of their slots, allowing for a great deal of flexibility in the displays. All in all, this makes Apple’s newest store one of the most dynamic retail spaces in New York.

The store features a unique 6K monitor that Apple plans to use for community events; photo by Pat Finn.

When one enters the main showroom from the street, it is impossible not to notice the giant, gorgeous monitor along the far wall. This is a 6K display monitor, which Apple plans to use to conduct demonstrations and other events for the community. The technology behind this monitor is so unique, my source says, that only two technicians in the world are able to repair it. When a mysterious black line appeared on the display a few days before the opening, Apple CEO Tim Cook had to fly the two technicians out to Brooklyn on a private jet for an emergency troubleshooting session.

Inside the “boardroom”; via Pat Finn

The community focus of this store is evident in the “boardroom,” which is a side office that Apple plans to use for business consulting. According to my source, local businesses will be able to meet with Apple employees here free of charge to discuss ways to integrate technology into their operations. The boardroom is a serene space that features a large black-and-white print of the new Foster + Partners–designed Apple headquarters, which is slated to open next year. The gorgeous print is flanked by orchids — yet another perfect detail.

With Apple, it’s all in the details; video by Pat Finn.

In lieu of a Genius Bar, this store includes a more relaxed waiting area where customers can sit back and use their laptops as they wait for a technician to assist them. This area features tables fitted with hidden outlets that appear with a gentle tap. Like so many of the details in this store, the elegant mechanism behind these outlets seems like magic. Brooklyn magic.

All photos via Gothamist unless otherwise noted