Apple’s first D.C. store: Design by committee

March 8, 2009, 5:27 PM UTC

It took five tries — and four redesigns —  but Apple (AAPL) last week finally won approval to build a retail outlet in Washington D.C., its first in the nation’s capital.

The final rendering, shown at right, was designed to echo the architectural features of the city’s historic Georgetown neighborhood. It was enthusiastically embraced by the same architectural preservation board that had soundly rejected Apple’s previous designs.

“This is beautifully executed,” Stephen J. Vanze, chairman of the Old Georgetown Board, told Karl Backus, Apple’s architect, according to the
Washington Post
. “We’re very pleased.”

The Post did not say if Steve Jobs is equally pleased. Apple purchased the building that now stands on the site, 1229 Wisconsin Ave. NW, in 2007 for $13.3 million, according to IFOAppleStore. It has been navigating the maze of D.C.’s multi-layered approval process ever since.

For a company that puts so much stock in cutting-edge design, it must have been painful to be second-guessed at every turn by a couple of neighborhood boards.

How far is the final version from Apple’s original conception? We tell the story through pictures below the fold.

Original building. Here’s what currently stands at the site. The red-brick building’s previous tenant was a French Connection clothing store.

First Apple design: Apple’s first proposal, shown below in a sketch obtained by the
Washington Post
, was submitted in Sept. 2007 but rejected by the U.S. Fine Arts Commission’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC).

Second Apple design. We’re not sure what the ANC expected of Apple, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t the design shown below: a shiny, two-story glass-and-steel retail emporium that doesn’t look like anything else in the neighborhood. The Old Georgetown Board (OGB) — three architects appointed by the Fine Arts Commission — rejected it, reportedly concerned about how much light would spill out of all that glass at night.

Third Apple design. Apple came back with the version rendered below and a high-level endorsement: Steve Jobs himself had seen the design and liked it. The
Georgetown Metropolitan
did not. “In GM’s view,” it editorialized,  “this is not an appropriate design for Georgetown.” (link) The ANC agreed, and so did the OGB. (They felt it looked like a billboard, said a spokesman.) Apple’s architects went back to the drawing board.

Fourth Apple design. What Apple came back with in February looks a lot like the original design rejected back in 2007. This time it was approved by the ANC but blocked by the OGB, which didn’t like the large glass window and over-sized entrance on the ground floor.

Fifth (and final) Apple design. This one did the trick. According to IFOAppleStore, the changes were minor: upper windows slightly altered and metal dividers added to the wide first-story window to break it up into bays. By now, according to Georgetown’s Vox Populi blog, “the Commissioners appeared sick of talking about the Apple store.” The AMC urged the OGB to approve the new design, shown below, which it did on Thursday.

Below: Another view of the final design, as rendered by
Georgetown Metropolitan
from drawings obtained from the ANC.

One can only imagine what the iMac would look like if Jonathan Ive’s designs needed not just Steve Jobs’ approval, but that of the ANC and OGB as well.