One does not usually speak of commercial real estate in terms of the miraculous, but as regards the Apple’s iconic flagship on Fifth Avenue between 58th and 59th streets — which just got an overhaul of its façade– the term is almost appropriate. For 40 years prior to Apple’s arrival in New York City in 2007, this area was a commercial disaster, first as a sunken pit whose varied businesses enticed few to descend, then, in developer Donald Trump’s reworking, as a marble-encased hole in the ground that no business could be induced to lease.
Only a business founded on the notion of “thinking outside the box” could possibly make a go of it, and no business fits that description better than Apple. But what is nearly miraculous is that, if no company could make better use (or any use) of the place than Apple, there is also no space that would better suit Apple than this. It stands in isolation from all other businesses and the descent into the ground, which would present a challenge for any other enterprise, seems to make the Apple experience all the more memorable and emblematic.
The odd location also gave Apple the chance to create an iconic structure, a pellucid glass cube that is unlike any other structure in New York. To superficial inspection, the cube that was unveiled two weeks ago looks exactly as it did before it went under wraps last June. But the change is as profound as it is subtle.
The surface of the cube, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, has been simplified — at a cost of $6.6 million — from 90 glass panes to only 15, using new glass technology that was not available only a few years ago. The result is that the structure, whose physicality was subliminally emphasized by the previous glass encasement, now seems to vanish into thin air, a perfect symbolic analogue to the post-industrial world. And whereas before there was a trace of effort, even clumsiness to the glass casing, now the structure has attained to that almost metaphysical cleanness of form and function that is the hallmark of the Apple brand.