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Apple’s ‘most ambitious’ new store is a departure from its signature design

September 8, 2020, 11:33 AM UTC

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Singaporeans have speculated for months about the origins of the mysterious orb floating on the waterfront next to the city’s iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Was it a museum? A new-fangled theater? Some said the structure resembled the lair of a Hollywood supervillain—or a Death Star from another galaxy.

Construction crews finally pulled away scaffolding and canvases two weeks ago, confirming what many residents of the city-state already had guessed. The orb is an Apple Store, designed by Foster + Partners, the London-based architecture firm that designed Apple’s otherworldly new headquarters in Cupertino, California.

The new store—number 512 for Apple globally since its first in 2001 and the third in Singapore—opens Thursday. But Apple offered a sneak peek on its website yesterday, billing the orb as the company’s “most ambitious retail project” yet.

Apple Marina Bay Sands. Credit: Apple

The structure is remarkable in many ways. It’s the first Apple store to sit directly on water. Though connected to the waterfront by a wooden gangway and to a nearby shopping mall by an underground tunnel, the sphere appears to bob in the marina like, well, an apple.

Apple describes the orb as “a first-of-its-kind, all-glass dome structure that is fully self-supported, comprised of 114 pieces of glass with only 10 narrow vertical mullions for structural connection.” The glass is lined with custom baffles contoured to block daytime glare. The company says the dome was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

Credit: Apple

Images of the interior show sunlight pouring through an oculus at its apex. A ring of trees shades customers as they peer into Apple products displayed on the company’s trademark maple tables. The store includes an enormous “video wall,” which Apple says will serve as the backdrop for Today at Apple sessions featuring local artists, musicians, and creators. There’s also an underwater “Boardroom” on the lower level for training sessions with developers and entrepreneurs.

And at night the glass dome glows. Early images of the exterior suggest the structure is a departure from Apple’s signature minimalism. In many photos, the orb’s lower half is suffused in purple, green, and gold light, while one side projects a neon red image of the Apple logo that casts a shimmering reflection across the bay.

9to5Mac reports that the sphere’s nighttime glow is meant to evoke the design of traditional lanterns carried during Singapore’s mid-autumn festival.” It is certainly lighting up Instagram.

Credit: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images
Suhaimi Abdullah—Getty Images

Not everyone is a fan. “Beyond hideous,” groused one reader under this report in Dezeen.com. “How did this monstrosity ever get past the veto pen of the design directors at F&P or the team at Apple who get tasked with maintaining order and brand standards?” fumed another.  

In fact, the store is a coup for Foster + Partners, the firm Apple has retained to design all its freestanding stores since 2016. Hong Kong, where I live, is choc-a-bloc with F+P projects, including HSBC’s Hong Kong headquarters, the Hong Kong airport, and the ambitious new West Kowloon Cultural District.

But for the past decade, the most distinctive feature of Singapore’s downtown skyline has been the Marina Bay Sands complex designed by Boston-based Moshe Safdie. You may recall MBS from the money shots in Crazy Rich Asians, with its three curved skyscrapers topped by a cantilevered skypark resembling a giant surfboard. At the base of those towers, Sadfie designed two angular ‘crystal pavilions.’ The northern pavilion remains, and is occupied by Louis Vuitton. But the southern pavilion, which used to house a flashy nightclub, is the site of Apple’s new store. Now, like a cheeky photo bomber, Apple’s orb bobs in the marina and uses Safdie’s towers as dramatic backdrop.

More design news below.

Clay Chandler
clay.chandler@fortune.com

NEWS BY DESIGN

Do it

Nike is launching its first maternity sportswear collection, designed to adapt to women’s bodies during at all stages of pregnancy and post-birth. The Nike (M) range includes a sports bra that allows for breastfeeding as well as leggings with a more elasticated waistband. More importantly, the maternity wear reflects a rethink of what women can do while pregnant. It comes a year after Nike itself faced a congressional inquiry for reducing sponsorship to pregnant athletes.

Light ahead

Following a nine-month competition, Los Angeles unveiled the winning design for the city’s new streetlights—a modular pole that can be adjusted to provide lights at different heights. Dubbed Superbloom—for how it’s constructed as a “bouquet” of different “stems”—the new standard streetlamp, designed by L.A.-based Project Room, has options for shade and advertising attachments as well as 5G modules.

Richard Rogers

Award-winning, 87-year old architect Richard Rogers has retired from the firm he founded in 1977, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. Per the studio’s constitution, Rogers’ name will be dropped from the practice within the next two years.

Medaling

The 2020 London Design Medals were announced this week with Paola Antonelli, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Yinka Ilori and Ken Garland claiming the prize. Previous winners have included Es Devlin, Tom Dixon and Zaha Hadid.

Passport cover

Taiwan revealed a new passport design that removes the island’s official English name—Republic of China—to avoid confusion with passports issued by mainland China, a.k.a. the People’s Republic of China. The redesign is classy, but unfortunately not nearly as fun as these submissions created and voted on by the public.

EVENTS BY DESIGN

September

London Design Festival has decided to go ahead September 12-20, with a stripped-down offline program that will target Londoners much more than international visitors. Other events will be online. The organizers are still figuring out how exactly to proceed.

Design Matters in Copenhagen appears to be carrying on, too, September 23-24, although it is now selling tickets to view a livestream of the event.

October

Dubai had, perhaps, the misfortune of hosting the World Expo this year. Originally scheduled to open in October and run until April next year, the Dubai Expo 2020 has been delayed until October next year instead. World Expos come but once every five years, so perhaps waiting one more year is okay.

November

Dubai’s inaugural architecture festival, d3 Architecture Festival, will run November 11-13 on the sidelines of Dubai Design Week. The event will focus on sustainability—an existential issue for the desert city.

QUOTED BY DESIGN

“People with disabilities have always confronted barriers between their bodies and the built world, and their long-held questions are relevant with a new intensity for all of us: Is a desirable future one that only restores what was lost?”

Sara Hendren, a professor at Olin College of Engineering, writes in the note of her book What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World. Hendren’s focus is design and disability, taking the view that disability is a mismatch between a person’s body and the tools society has provided. Hendren points out that in the time since her book was commissioned, the pandemic has reshaped how everyone interacts with the world.

 

This week’s edition of BxD was curated by Eamon Barrett. Email him tips and ideas at eamon.barrett@fortune.com