Inside the Box
The coincidence between Steve Jobs’ death and the opening of a new Apple Store in New Haven was a little spooky. The construction was done with a speed and intensity that perfectly resonated with the precision of an instantaneous “iProduct” launch.
The core aesthetic of all “iProducts” and their stores is sleek, techno-minimalism and it is just so with the New Haven effort. Designed by Callison architects in Seattle, New Haven’s Apple Store offers up the simplest of buildings: a solid box on its top and three sides with an open face of outsized full span plate glass addressing the Yale campus. Its interior is similarly minimalist, with broad low tables taking over the entire interior with what architects like to call “deep wall” storage on the three walls that aren’t plate glass.
Like all good Modernist architecture, there’s almost no way to reference the actual size of the building from what you see. Absent your physical presence, the Apple Store could be the size of an ottoman or a NASA hangar. Its stringent distillation is what makes it so compatible with the products that sell within its void.
Given these multiple efforts at perfection, I found real irony in the way products are actually purchased inside this clean machine. In order to make the building and its interior pristinely abstract, there are no cash registers, check-out lines or any other classic retail security measure.
But what takes the place of physical barriers to those who might want to simply walk off with a product? Manpower.
Ironically, in a store that sells some of the most delightfully, magically technological products, products whose instantaneous precision is completely mirrored by the sleekness of every aspect of what is held in your hand, your lap or on your desk as well as in the graphic result of any Apple program, there are perhaps anywhere from 10-15 people on duty in a store that, with traditional retail structures to prevent theft and provide security might require 4-5 people.
When I purchased my iPhone charger there was no cash register, there was merely a wandering human being who swiped my card on the iPhone that he was carrying and within sixty seconds the sales receipt magically appeared on my own iPhone, as if the two were having a private conversation. The interesting aspect is that despite the instantaneously/zipless aspect of the transaction, it was done by human to human contact.
It is perhaps the ultimate irony of 21st century technology (and architecture) that in an effort to transcend human foibles, cultural idiosyncrasies, or any visible evidence of context, built realities intended to dissociate us from these banalities of our vernacular existence are always made by people, used by people and in the case of the Apple Store, sold by a far greater number of eager, smart, young, biological facilitators than messy “normal” and boring stores need.
Inefficiency compensating for aesthetic purity – I wish I could say this disconnect was unprecedented.