How Apple makes iconic public spaces its own

First Grand Central, now Union Square.

Jony Ive calls the effect he was going for in the Apple Store that opened Saturday on San Francisco’s Union Square “taking transparency to a whole new level—where the building blends the inside and the outside.”

It’s done in San Francisco with a pair of 42-foot glass doors that open like an airplane hanger, making the store feel like a continuation of the 2.6-acre public plaza—and the plaza feel like part of the store.

It was done in New York City four years earlier by occupying a balcony overlooking Grand Central Terminal.


“The first thing you notice when you enter the Apple Store in Grand Central Station is that you haven’t entered the store or left the station,” wrote Avi Greengart for SlashGear, in 2011. “There are no walls. There is no discrete ceiling, either—just the arching roof of the enormous main hall, which is so high that it might as well not exist. The lack of a separation between the station and the store area highlights unique aspects of Apple’s retail approach.”

It’s an effect only a company with patience, deep pockets and good taste can pull off.

Apple has done it twice.

The company commemorated the Grand Central store’s opening with the 1:40-minute commercial below. Want to bet it screens a Union Square movie next month at WWDC?


  1. Richard Wanderman said:

    The Grand Central Apple store is pure genius. Every time we go to New York we use it and it’s almost always full, not just of folks using display computers to check Facebook and email, but with customers. I’ve seen people walk out of there with iMacs and everything else Apple sells.

    Apple gets retail in a big way and this new move with the Union Square store is terrific. I will say that their labels for the different spaces are kind of odd but that will fade as people just use the spaces and don’t discuss the labels.

    May 22, 2016
    • Jonathan Mackenzie said:

      I agree their labels seem odd. But you could argue that Genius Bar was also a little weird when it was introduced. Sure a bar can be any long counter, especially one with seats, but the name had undertones of social and friendly place to bring your problems, as well as a hippy-dippy connection to the phrase “juice bar”. So it was a mix of subconscious impressions, just as “Genius Grove” is now. Not all of the accompanying associations ring true and it can feel forced. They sound like they are trying too hard. And yet on some level, there is no doubt supposed to be a subconscious association with a grove of trees where wise philosophers imparted their wisdom to students in ancient Greece. If a Bar where you can whine over a beer is one metaphor for seeking help with your relationship with a computer, a small circle of students in a grove of trees learning from the masters is certainly another.

      In the end the thing will be what it is and the name will be just a name, as you say. The success or failure of these concept spaces will be all about execution and less about how the space is named. If a customer gets a bad experience in the Genius Grove, it won’t matter how Platonic the imagery is.

      May 22, 2016
  2. David Drinkwater said:

    The open store concept is not totally unlike (but at this point a more refined version of) the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.

    I don’t know if you saw that on your tour of Europe, Philip, but it’s quite remarkable.. I remember watching a World Cup 2006 soccer match there on the big screens and the whole thing was lit up with wifi, which was, I would think, moderately ahead of common practice. But my first visit was probably before 2006, so I may be mixing memories.

    I suspect, though, that as I recall the Sony Store in the Sony Center, that Apple has done a better job with its train station stores than Sony even managed to do with the Sony Store in the Sony Center.


    May 23, 2016
  3. There are lot of people living on the streets of San Francisco. Way more than in Grand Central Terminal. Interesting test of Apple’s inclusiveness.

    May 26, 2016

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