The most notable architectural feature of the store has to be the arches that run around the outside. Inside the Covent Garden store you'll find more arches – they're all over the place and they help to form the creation of individual rooms for each product line – Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod.
Every original building material amenable to restoration has been given the full treatment, giving the whole space a wonderfully olde worlde feel as you wander beneath beautiful brick arches and between traditional English oak desks.
As you walk through the store's door you enter the world of Mac; and beyond that is an impressive iPad courtyard where natural daylight streams in through a huge glass ceiling. It's at this point that the sheer size of the building really hits you. Apple tells us you could quite easily fit the entire Manhattan Apple Store inside this courtyard area!
Tucked away in the back is the iPod room and up a floor is a new feature – a Setup room, to which you can retire after making your new Apple purchase. Here you can set up your email on your new MacBook, activate your new iPhone or choose your favourite iPad wallpaper, all with a degree of privacy, away from other shoppers.
Also on the second floor you'll find the Community room packed with One to One training desks, and a new Pro Labs area for training in the more professional Apple applications, such as Final Cut.
Around the corner you'll find a huge Genius Bar. Here it's shielded off in its own room, so you don't get distracted by the noise of other shoppers. But we're not done yet – there's an entire floor still to cover.
On the third level is the biggest range of accessories of any Apple Store. Cases, speaker docks, laptop bags – it's all here. "It's in many ways the best thing we've done so far, because it's got all of our thinking in it, from the 299 steps that precede it," said Ron Johnson at its launch.
He's right too. The Covent Garden Apple Store is a beautifully restored building in a great location. Add it to your favourite tourist destinations, because it's well worth a trip to the capital to see all by itself. And you've also got the delights of Covent Garden and its lively atmosphere to entertain you as well.
But what features should you look out for on your visit to the Covent Garden Apple Store? Well, for a start the brickwork. The rough, multi-hewed, ceramic walls are the most obvious component of the store. They're fused with a cool ambience by carefully placed lights illuminating from below.
The best view of them is perhaps from the top of the second glass staircase at the back of the store – looking down you can see all the levels' modern glass and ancient brickwork contrasting beautifully. Prominent air conditioning ducts don't look out of place. Unusually for an Apple Store, they have been kept in plain view, along with the infrastructure's sprinkler piping.
Créme de la créme
And so, to Paris. Here Apple has been busy, opening two stores separated by just a few months. This first store, opened in 2009, is situated in the Louvre, one of the most respected cultural institutions in the world. This was Apple's first ever store in France.
"We build a lot of stores, but we do a few that are really special, and the significant stores tend to have a landmark location and really unique architecture. And you put that together and it kind of becomes magical," said Johnson, speaking at its launch.
As you can see from the picture, it's a beautifully designed location, fully deserving of its premier position inside the Louvre's underground shopping mall. If you looked over your shoulder from where this picture was taken you'd see the famous Pyramide Inversée right behind you.
And looking through the glass inside the store, you would begin to notice that the entire ceiling of the store features diamond-shaped metal panels that reflect the design of the famous Pyramid. It really is a sight to behold.
The Grand Ole Opéra
Apple's other Paris store of note is in the Opéra district, noted for its 'Grands Boulevards' (large avenues) built by Baron Haussmann under Napoleon III, to give the capital city more prestige. As its name implies, at the heart of the Opéra district you'll find the world-famous Opera Garnier, built in 1860 – one of the world's most renowned opera houses.
The Apple Store here (at 12 rue Halévy) is on three floors. The building is an old bank (the Bank of Italy) and Apple's architects have done an amazing job of preserving the old building right down to the door of the safe. The mosaics on the floor and on the wall at the entrance to the room where the safe was located (the basement), which is now the accessories room, have also all been preserved.
This store is perhaps Apple's best restoration job – there are so many little details to wonder at, such as the brass grates at the centre of the mosaics in the floor on the downstairs level, the huge marble columns, massive windows, the candle-style chandelier lighting, the brass handrails on the stairs. The list just goes on and on – you really could spend a good hour just exploring the architecture.
The mezzanine level, home to the Genius Bar, feels more like a balcony where you look down upon a performance below, and in the basement there are little twists and turns that you wouldn't expect in a normal retail store. And as with the Covent Garden store, there's also a skylight, to allow natural light to show off Apple's products in their full glory.
Enter the dragon
The final new Apple Store that's definitely worthy of a mention is the Pudong store in Shanghai, which also opened in July.
Like the 5th Avenue store in Manhattan, this is an underground structure with only glass visible above ground. But instead of the famous cube, a 30-foot high cylindrical glass entrance marks the spot. Incidentally, this is the largest single piece of glass ever constructed.
The perimeter of the glass tower is almost completely surrounded by a shallow water fountain, leaving only a gap for entry down into the store via a spiral glass staircase.
The store sits beneath a circular plaza at the International Finance Centre, at the base of two glass skyscrapers nearly 1,000 feet tall in the Lujiazui financial district of the city. One skyscraper contains office space and the other a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Both were designed by the famous Argentine architect César Pelli.
But what's next for Apple Stores? Well, 2010 should see the first Apple Store opening in Spain, and we'd expect more countries after that, so hold onto your hats – Apple shows no sign of slowing down.
First published in MacFormat Issue 226
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