As a number of readers quickly noted a couple of weeks ago, the preliminary designs for Apple’s proposed store on Union Square would kill the Grand Hyatt Plaza behind the existing Levi’s store and build an 80-foot long wall along Stockton Street. Ruth Asawa’s “San Francisco Fountain,” a fixture of the plaza, would appear to get the axe as well.
In the words of John King today, while there’s plenty of time to take the strong points of the design and “make it into something that feels like it belongs,” that could be tough:

Apple’s desire to move to Union Square from its current shop at 1 Stockton St. was announced by Mayor Ed Lee, who didn’t stop there.

“Apple’s new store is quite simply incredible,” Lee gushed. “I can think of no better location for the world’s most stunning Apple store. … I want to thank Apple for their investment in this city and continued commitment to growing jobs in San Francisco.”

With that kickoff, the City Planning Department can’t send Apple and [Foster + Partners] back to the drawing board. It’s another example of a task-oriented mayor’s office putting an emphasis on upbeat press releases over a long-term commitment to the city’s physical environment.

At the very least, both proponents and opponents of the proposed design are likely to agree, the proposal is simply incredible, indeed.
Apple’s Plan For A Flagship Store On Union Square [SocketSite]
Boxy Apple store could shrink popular plaza [Chronicle]

51 thoughts on “Apple’s Union Square Store Design: Simply Incredible, Indeed”
  1. That plaza is awkward and empty 100% of the time. The fountain is only awkward… as far as I can tell.

  2. Is this a joke? No one gathers here, they gather at the public space across the street, the one called Union Square Park!

  3. I concur. That is one ugly and uninviting plaza. However, a solid wall of concrete fronting Stockton in the proposed Apple design is also uninviting. At least wrap the glass around the first floor and/or incorporate windows on the second. Then again, as I hold my iPhone 5 in my hand I can see why function and form aren’t Apple’s strongest features.

  4. Grand stairs like that are just so 1980’s, meaning before the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    The main entrance to a re-imagined Apple store would need to be at accessible sidewalk grade.

  5. Total BS by the mayor. He knows absolutely nothing about great design. He is a mere puppet.
    The Apple store will turn out to be one giant, gross, glassy billboard for an over-admired, and over priced product.
    Keep the building mass and shape as is. keep the grand stairs as they are. Keep the iconic Asawa fountain as is.

  6. I kind of like the fountain for some reason.
    My problem with this project is the just blandness of the design. Its a lazy piece of architecture for what should be, one of their flagship, if not the flagship store. A big wall of metal on Stockton is just lazy.
    I guess Im just getting sick of SF being an afterthought for companies in terms of architecture.

  7. There are a lot of large buildings under construction right now,
    including several in the Rincon Hill area. I am sure that one of
    them would be glad to have the Ruth Asawa fountain.

  8. As proposed, this would be the smallest facade facing Union Square ever to be built on this corner. 100 years ago Union Square was a point of civic, not corporate, pride. Even in 1970 they tried to be a little bit interesting with the wedge shape. This is progress?

  9. What makes Apple more corporate and less civic than Levi’s? Or Tiffany’s or Nike for that matter?

  10. Nothing makes Apple more corporate than other businesses. But before the Levis building, and when most of Union Square was built up, tall multi-use buildings were the norm. The single box Apple is proposing is a remnant of the mid 20th century, a suburban model in the middle of downtown. Modern planning once again prefers better, more efficient, denser uses. I’m disappointed that the mayor wouldn’t even imagine (or ask for) anything more than this.

  11. First, a heartfelt thanks to Mayor Ed Lee for bringing burlesque back to city hall.
    Second, Apple should buy the neighboring building (340 Post) and build something worth of the NE corner of Union Square, say 200-300 feet tall with a walkway from the plaza to Post.
    Third, SF should quash any rebuild that doesn’t fix the failures of the current site wrt Stockton and the plaza.

  12. Lee can gush all he wants (sell-out) but if they want some presence on Union Sq. Apple can do better. That big blank wall is ugly – a ‘flagship’ store it is not

  13. The linked article is behind a paywall. I found a working link (see name link). YMMV.
    My guess is the lack of access or windows on the side are more an issue of structure to support the wall of glass in front. Apple will most likely find a middle ground on the fountain and probably already has contemplated a solution.
    The blank wall on Stockton, however, is really an issue that needs to be sorted out. Even a few glass display cases would be nice. It’s surprising to see so many people up in arms about anything built in the 70’s; especially this oddly shaped and poorly designed building that suboptomizes an extremely valuable corner of the commercial real estate market. I’m sure Apple will pay a significant increase in rent to whomever holds the rights to that space, who is probably the Hyatt; which would explain their silence on the subject as well.
    One wonders if anyone would be so up in arms about the city ripping out the Mark Di Suvero structures on the crissy field 40 years from now if they were permanent?
    I think this structure somewhat compliments the glass corner of the building occupied by Neiman Marcus at the other corner of the square. It would seem perhaps Apple could use a similar corner glass structure to solve the blank wall issue. I’d be surprised if the final design is what we see here.

  14. So a Starbucks is “bad” but an Apple store is “good”? I am fascinated by what makes one gigantic corporate brand o.k. with p.c. Nimby police vs. another. How was Apple able to convince consumers that they were “unique” and individualistic by having the same phone, laptop and pad as everyone else? Likewise, this store design is part of their brand architecture which is as recognizable as McDonalds. Whole Foods had the same cool vibe with consumers for a while but is now thought of as being “corporate”. Can Apple be far behind?

  15. Starbucks is not “bad”, there are plenty of Starbucks locations around Union Square. If you’re referring to the recent debacle on Market and Sanchez(?) that was a different neighborhood and one or more local businesses hiding behind a neighborhood interest agenda managed to pull the right political strings. Hey, if you don’t like this proposal, maybe you can get Microsoft or Google to bankroll a fake neighborhood movement against it.

  16. @ eddy: the solid, windowless wall of the proposed Apple store has absolutely NOTHING to do with the structural support of the all glass facade. Zero.
    Structurally, engineering can easily solve that issue with a steel moment frame, allowing for much more glass on the Stockton side. It’s hardly rocket science, just simple engineering.
    However the proposed building is a classic Apple technique of arrogance and disregard for context and surroundings AND existing conditions.
    Apple prefers to “disassociate” themselves from any surroundings as if to elevate their status to god-like adoration. More BS. Just look at their proposed circular space-ship design headquarters by Norman Foster: a closed circle keeping out any intrusions, and remaining secretive to all.

  17. I am not against this design or location, but am just curious as to what makes one corporation acceptable with the p.c. crowd vs. another. What if McDonalds had wanted to propose this SAME design but with the golden arches instead of the Apple symbol? I dare say people would be howling against it.
    My point is that San Francisco has a class bias against brand stores that say lower middle class.
    Go ahead, put a nice big yellow golden arches where the Apple symbol is and tell me how much you like this building then

  18. Ugh! What an ugly building — a glorified strip mall building in the middle of San Francisco.
    Ruth Asawa’s fountain is iconic. It’s a San Francisco landmark. This is typical of the arrogant dot com people who have no sense of SF history. They want to destroy this fountain without comment. They don’t even know who SF’s greatest living artist is.

  19. This a good building and glad those creepy steps are disappearing, but didn’t realize this 90s look is still happening. As Apple slides and we continue to become weary with all things Apple, this will make a great performance space — ballet school, jazz center overlooking Union Square and on. This city is an exercise in impermanence.

  20. They could have done something much more inventive — like having the east facing wall made of glass, and keeping the stairs just extending them inside the store…

  21. The plaza, despite being just steps from Union Square, is dead space. There is a small commercial strip behind it, exiting next to the Ugg store, but no one, save the odd homeless person, walks or congregates there.
    The Hyatt lobby bart may get a little torqued, because it may cut some of their light, but otherwise, I think the apple store is a better use of the space.
    sure will miss that hot dog cart.

  22. Apple has plenty of Iconic retail buildings around the world – but they are just variations on a theme.
    For the home San Francisco store on UNION SQUARE, they need to move up a level in the game. We do not need another glass cube on that corner, with or without blind walls on Stockton.
    No, show us an Apple store on grade , with 10 floors of Apple condominiums above it. We know you can do phones and laptops, show us your 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath unit, show us I-Live.

  23. So because people wouldn’t accept a McDonalds they shouldn’t accept anything else with a logo? Yeah, that’s great logic. Don’t tell us what you do for a living, it’s more fun to guess.

  24. I’m far from a proponent of most contemporary architecture, but this is not bad and could work well within its location with one important component.
    Line the Stockton side with very small ground-floor storefronts, say 15’w x 20’d or so. Small showrooms essentially. These would ideally be filled with a rotating cast of up-and-coming start-up/app companies that are involved in the Applesphere.
    1. Apple can showcase some of the latest and greatest innovations facilitated by their devices.
    2. Gives a Union Square presence for the start-up/pop-up culture so prevalent in SF. As it stands, the casual visitor to Union Square gets no indication that he/she is in the tech capital of the world which also happens to be a hotbed of small and local businesses.
    3. The Stockton side is activated, replacing the failed, silent public stairs with a continuous frontage of active retail rather than another blank wall.
    Apple wins, the city wins.

  25. I love Lurkavore’s idea.
    I actually don’t mind this building, given that consistent branding integrated with design is a part of their signature branding. I do think I would rather see a more substantial building at such a prime location, but this is fine.
    In terms of the “class warfare” discussion, I don’t think it’s wrong to favor upscale and trendy companies at a location in the city that is an international draw for shopping at, guess what, upscale and trendy stores. Union Square is something few residents actually visit, but to be competitive with other major US cities, it needs to be able to draw the flagship stores of trendy companies.
    This is why having the United State’s second Uniqlo location was HUGE for the area. This is also why I would love to eventually see a Topshop/Topman (only in NYC/LA/Chicago/Las Vegas currently).
    A high-profile and custom designed Apple store, while nowhere near as rare, is a great addition to what is intended to be one of the best shopping concentrations in the country.

  26. I’m of the camp that the plaza is awkward and unsuccessful, and I will not mourn its passing. The Ruth Asawa Fountain however is, actually, iconic. There is something tacky and over the top and very hippy dippy 1970’s about it, but it makes me smile every time I see it. And for anyone who knows her primarily for her very elegant wire sculptures, this fountain is very “WTF acid trip was she on?”. I would not object to the Fountain being moved, but since it is built into the stairway it is very site specific…it’s interesting to think where it might work.

  27. that fountain is repulsive. the stairs to the “plaza” are windswept and in a perpetual shade. no one goes there. the steep angles are so awkward and foreboding.
    maybe tourists cluster and mug for pictures around it sometimes. tourists will cluster like pigeons around anything.
    as for the drawing of the proposed building – yeah, the apple logo seems clumsily large – it’s always a bit too large, everywhere – I think it’s a bit too large on this laptop and my ipad too. that’s a matter of subtle scaling I can easily overlook given the excellence of apple design.
    the biggest problem with the drawing is that it’s not a very good drawing. the building, I think, could be pretty great when it’s built.
    – and there might be a natural gag reflex because we’ve been guzzling all things apple in the media for a couple of years now.
    I think the building would be a big improvement over what’s there. I have confidence that Foster + partners and apple are well capable of doing very good work.
    the natural diffused lighting and the suspended 2nd floor should look killer. I think people are getting stuck on the not liking this one drawing and not letting their eyes see the novelty and power of the suspended 2nd floor and the light.
    if the architecture has any power that’s where it will be. I think it would in person.
    I don’t think there is another example like this in the apple pantheon?
    the john king piece frets that the huge glass panes are going to have to “super expensive” if they’re going to block out the heat or “the customers will bake”. I think apple will be able to come up with the cash for the expensive glass, john. he sounds like a yokel. maybe he can stroll through the simmering florescent haze in any one of the other department stores around there or in the world and imagine the difference.
    go ahead, john – go down the block shop for a $600 pair of shoes at neiman marcus. tell me how you like the lighting. go upstairs to the couteur department. browse for a $7 thousand dollar dress. tell us, how do you like the lighting?
    why does he even bother talking about lack of context etc. without providing a link to the plans, images of the new rectangular park and the stockton street treatment? just one lousy drawing of the front?
    journalism needs to provide context. am I just to take his word for it? links and / or images, please. and canthe chronicle implement a better design for their payfor website? I can’t bring myself to pay to look at such crap.
    yeah it may be better if they tacked on 10+ stories of beautiful glass commercial space where they could house their engineers busily tapping on keyboards. how’d that be for advertising? but I would guess a taller building can’t be built for one reason or another.
    there’s the crappy hyatt with the bellboys dressed like captain crunch with staffs, top-hats and whistles – right? isn’t it that hotel? I think the views from that hotel would be blocked.
    I for one am delighted this fountain and “plaza” and levi’s shop would go. good god, that fountain is a turd. so much bad acid to trip on in this city. I’ll take the new apple store, thank’s.
    – don’t worry, I think it’ll look a lot better in person.

  28. Wow. My response to that rendering makes me feel bad for Apple. Their store concepts were fresh and made a dramatic impression in the early 2000s, but at this point look quite hackneyed. For a company that trades in innovation, it’s looking more and more mired in convention, with no one at the helm to change course even a little. That metal/glass minimalism was a moment in the company’s stylistic evolution, but it’s really hung around too long.
    it looks cheap compared to what it vaguely references (Bauhaus/modernism), and pretty much interchangeable with anything they’ve done in the past 10 years.
    Their Union Sq. store basically replicates the experience of a cattle feed lot, do they need a bigger one? would be so much better to have three functional neighborhood stores instead.

  29. Another reason to hate Ed Lee, Apple and all their fanbois. The design is ugly, their products are overpriced crap and their customers are the very definition of tools. We need another apple store like we need a wal-mart.
    What is incredible is how the city is rushing to embrace a sinking ship. Further proof Ed Lee is only interested in what is good for China.

  30. apple is the McDonald’s of consumer electronics. It’s hilarious how many people act like they’re rocking some gourmet product, when it’s really just garbage fed to sheep.

  31. I really don’t mind this. It’s better than what’s there, so I can’t nit-pick too much. Also the “plaza” is a mess and should go. I’ve lived here decades and never even noticed the fountain.
    That said, the design is a little on the nose isn’t it? Like a parody of an Apple store. I just keep thinking of Lisa Simpson in the Mapple store… “It’s so sterile!”

  32. For one to say the fountain is “repulsive” clearly shows a deep lack of knowledge about Ruth Asawa, the sculptor/artist and her significant mark on Bay Area and San Francisco public art.
    The fountain is a great example of art involvment with the public sphere: the castings on the fountain are strong symbols of San Francisco landmarks and many small objects created by children in the public schools at that time. The fountain was created for that specific space.
    Truly amazing that some people who have lived here for “decades” have never noticed it.
    Sometimes you just have to open your eyes, and your mind: and look.

  33. I worked at Geary & Powell for seven years, and even during renovation of the square, never sat on these steps, actually no one sat there. I remember walking over to check it out right after the square was closed and it was just too uncomfortable and awkward to stay and relax. So in my opinion the plaza is NOT popular and adds nothing to the area.
    The fountain is unique, not my favorite, but I imagine it can be moved somewhere more fitting. No reason it has to stay there. It would be much better in a flat, sunny spot where one could stop and look closely at the castings.
    The proposed Apple store is boring, and too short. Why, why, why is it such heresy in this city to propose something tall? This is on the north side of the square and the shadows wouldn’t be an issue.

  34. I refuse to believe that the building is short simply because Apple or the developer didn’t think of making it taller or because they don’t want to. When you pay top dollar for land you want to maximize its value – Apple execs are nothing if not good-slash-ruthless capitalists. So I don’t know, maybe there’s a height restriction on the parcel or they cut a deal with the Hyatt behind it. Perhaps some “plugged-in” sleuth could dig up a real explanation?

  35. I work on Post/Powell and sit on those stairs quite a bit. I like the fountain and the fact it’s not heavily trafficked, unlike Union Square. It’s a nice spot to eat a sandwich, watch people and not get pestered for a handout. I’ll be sad if it turns into an Apple Megaplex.

  36. Not to get all artsy but the whole point of art is to evoke emotion. If someone finds art repulsive that is a personal opinion. It does not say anything about ones knowledge of a particular artist. Understanding provenance and context are important but it doesn’t necessarily have to impact ones opinion on the subject. Judging someones opinion on art is really just a hypocritical paradox.
    I’ve walked past this fountain many times and also did not notice it, fyi. And I’m looking forward to seeing it more closely. It only underscores the point that this structure is not in a place that is garnering much attention. It’s also hidden by a flower stand and I’m not even sure the fountain in operational 24x7x365.
    @denis, thanks for the mapple reference. never saw that before. funny.
    On this subject, glad all of this is getting attention. I’m sure our fine leaders will find a proper solution to all our concerns. Or not. 🙂

  37. I hope they save the fountain and put it in one of the Union Square steps. I think it will look good there and be more prominent.

  38. The building is too short because it’s shorter than even its shortest neighbor. Apple is proposing to build the new shortest building on Union Square. It doesn’t even bother to match the Williams Sonoma bldg for contextuality, as the Levis bldg does. This is the middle of the city. Height limits are not an issue. San Francisco can and should expect more at such a prominent and profitable location.

  39. How about a square with one corner cut off? So the size of the stairs is reduced, narrowing more quickly to a straight corridor, but leaving enough of the current condition to preserve the fountain. This could also create an interesting back entrance to the apple store. Or, they could orient the entrance along the Stockton edge of the building, but keep the glass fronting Union Square.
    I can think of a dozen solutions to this problem that would lead to a more interesting retail environment and preserve this important work of SF art. Of course Apple really hasn’t been known for thinking outside the box for some time now.

  40. futurist, you rock.
    We raised a son in this town and felt Ruth Asawa’s legacy keenly as she founded the art program in his school (Alvarado). She was a shining light and her legacy is a treasure. When I discovered this fountain by her (stumbled upon it) I was thrilled.

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