Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apple North Avenue Store emerges - it's very shiny. (And don't worry; it's taken charge of that ugly duckling next door)

click images for larger view
The dark tent  that had enveloped the new Apple store at North Avenue and Halsted is finally coming off.  The design, by regular Apple architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, appears to be a larger retread of an existing store in Scottsdale, Arizona, a rectangular box enclosed in glass at either end.

According to Gary Allen's incredibly exhaustive, initially created in 2003 to support the "Overnighters" camping out before a new store's opening and now grown to nearly 2,000 pages, the 15,000 square foot store has essentially been finished since June, down to interior furniture, but is awaiting the completion of the broad plaza to the building's west and the rehab of the adjoining North and Clybourn Red Line subway station.
The store is clad in stainless steel panels imported from Japan's Kikukawa Kogyo Company.  They are primarily large and vertically placed.  At the building's crest, the last several inches of the gaps between them are left open.
 Much taller panels clad a bustle along the structures west side, and much smaller, square panels serve as coping above the canopied entrances.  Strips of small display windows are placed within the stainless steel sides. The plaza, which runs all along the building from North to Clybourn, is paved in stone slabs with a marbleized look, and are also used to clad the large planters on the plaza.
Two temporary sculptures now punctuate the perfection:

. . . Green squares in polished metal
 . . . and, at each end facade,  logo shroud
The control-freak nature of Steve Jobs and the company he both founded and resurrected can be seen just to the west of the store.  The area around North and Clybourn has undergone its own resurrection in recent years.  Originally an industrial, working class area, it had grown increasingly derelict.  Frederick Ahlschlager's 1887 Yondorf Hall housed a liquor store that was a magnet for local wino's.
Now, the area has gentrified, and grown into one of the city's most successful shopping districts.  In 1998, the Yondorf was acquired as office space by the Stepenwolf Theatre Company.  The exterior has been beautifully restored, and the liquor store is now a jeweler's shop.  All up and down the streets, there's a vibrant mixture of big box retailers like Best Buy and Borders, and popular chains like Crate and Barrel, Banana Republic and Restoration Hardware.  The massive old Seeburg jukebox factory is now, thanks in large part to a $8.5 million TIF payout, a spiffy Grossinger auto mall.  A shiny new Vitamin Shoppe has just opened on one of the corners, the final certificate of authenticity for the district's yuppyfication.
The one major holdout in the revival has been the North and Clybourn Red Line station, originally opened in 1943. As reported in a history on another invaluable website, Graham Garfield's, the station was unique in a number of ways.  It was the only one with an above-ground headhouse replacing the standard below-ground mezzanine.  Designed by Shaw, Naess and Murphy, it had a distinctive Art Moderne feel, with curved elevations to the east and west, and the interior was generously lit through tall windows, subdivided into panes in a geometric grid.
As the area declined and the passenger load dropped, the building became increasingly decrepit.  The corner entrance was sealed up and made a commercial space.  While both the Green and Blue lines have recently undergone major rehabs, the Red Line has not. Amidst the pristine festival of consuming all around it, North and Clybourn had become a jarring, discordant reminder of the inevitability of decay.  Hardly a suitable neighbor for Apple's vision of an ever-brighter future.

So last October, Apple entered into an agreement with the CTA.  In exchange for being able to repave the area east of the bus turnaround that is now the new store's plaza, Apple is kicking in nearly $4 million towards the rehab of the station, now serving 4,500 passengers a day.  $2,100,000 is going directly to the CTA to update the interiors. 

Apparently being informed of how things can actually work in Chicago, Apple claimed the rights to rehab the exterior of the station - the part in immediately vicinity to their gleeming new outpost - for themselves, allocating another $1.8 million to the task.  Much of the original character of the station has been stripped away along with the grime.  The original  mottled brick that gave the building a subtle polychromatic accent has been completely replaced with bricks of monochrome buff.  The geometric grid-paned windows have been supplanted with something much more contemporary - and generic, the major feature being top transoms that should aid natural ventilation.   The former curving entrance along the west is now choppily angled.  It's a much brighter, much blander building.
Not surprisingly, the best work appears to be on the east side that actually faces the Apple store.  The same bland windows prevail, in the center bays with entrance doors below, but the generous glass still  provides a feeling of openness, lighting up the interior.  The great, curving canopy has been retained, it's red edge repainted.  Handsome, free-standing stainless steel lettering are a welcome addition,  spelling out the station's name in a curve that follows the canopy's perimeter.
Maybe we would have been better off if Apple had kept control of the interior rehab, as well.  It seems to be going as a snail's pace.  In truth, the project has its challenges.  The head house never married very gracefully to the station below.  Long corridors branching out in confusing ways must be traversed to get to the cramped stairway to the platform, bisected to insert an almost impossibly narrow escalator.  When I was at the site on Saturday, the headhouse was a hollowed out disaster zone, and one stair had been closed off to allow for the original red tile treads to receive replacements of light gray.

The Apple store is expected to open this fall.  How far along,  do you think,  will the CTA have the interior rehab by then?


Gary said...

Nice write-up on the nearly-finished station. Looks like the traffic flow has been re-worked to emphasize the interior plaza leading to the Apple store instead of the outer streets. Word around Lincoln Park is that the original pizza parlor will return to the finished space.

Anonymous said...

Should be opening in October.

D Steele said...

I am sad that the station designers could not appreciate the mid century beauty of that station.