Chicago’s Flagship Apple Store Going Underground Down Michigan Avenue

Michigan Avenue - Chicago, Illinois - June, 2012 - 001a

Chicago has long been an architectural testbed for Apple, the high tech company that has transformed the way people think about computers by disguising them as mobile phones.  Now Apple is going to do it again, just down the street, at Pioneer Court.

Crain’s Chicago Business has the scoop that Apple is moving its main Chicago store from 679 North Michigan to a space beneath the plaza in front of 401 North Michigan.  It’s been known for months that the below-street-level space was in play, but plans previously reported by Crain’s for this location indicated it would be a restaurant.

Apple Store North Michigan Avenue - Chicago, Illinois - March, 2010 - 002a

So long, old friend. But I’ll be standing in line in front of another building at 3am with a fist full of cash soon. (Photograph courtesy of Artefaqs stock photography)

Apple and architecture and Chicago have a long history.  The current Apple Store at 679 North Michigan Avenue was revolutionary when it opened in June of 2003, just months before the launch of this blog.  It was the first of a legion of Apple Stores to take that design, and one of the very first buildings in Chicago to have a green roof.

Previous Apple Stores had been long and flat, resembling the company’s Xserve products.  The then-new Chicago store looked like Steve Jobs’ beloved Macintosh “Cube” computer — brains up top, floating atop a transparent plinth. It was a design that would be replicated over and over from Seattle to San Francisco to Tokyo.  It was that store that ushered in the era of modern architecture on North Michigan Avenue.

Seven years later, Apple used Chicago to launch another of its designs.  The North and Clybourn Apple Store features a two-story glass vault between a pair of Apple-esque bookends, a style it toyed with in Scottsdale as well.  The design appeared in Chicago in October, 2010 and would subsequently be used in new stores in place like Houston, and renovations in Palo Alto and Santa Monica.

PowerMac G4 Cube

The PowerMac G4 Cube

Still, of all the Apple Store designs, it is the underground Apple Store in front of the General Motors building in Manhattan that is most iconic.    It epitomizes Apple’s ability to “think different” about a space, and find an elegant solution to a challenging situation.

Since the New York flagship opened in 2006, Apple has built three other underground Apple Stores — In Shanghai in 2010, Istanbul in 2014, and Chongquing in 2015.

Although it is light years ahead of the Michigan Avenue Apple Store design, the original Apple glass cube on Fifth Avenue in New York also strikes old-school Apple fans as an homage to the PowerMac G4 Cube.  The two circular Apple Store gateways in China resemble the current Mac Pro.  And last year’s Istanbul store apes the Mac Mini.

In all cases, they are incredible focal points, drawing tourists, the curious, and Apple devotees by the millions into a subterranean technology petting zoo.  Chicago’s entry should be no different.

Apple Stores are the stuff that commercial real estate agents and developers dream of.  Landing an Apple Store for a new mall can make it an overnight success, even before it opens.  Apple Stores bring foot traffic, high-value shoppers, and perhaps most important, legitimacy.

401 North Michigan - Chicago, Illinois - October, 2011 - 001a

401 North Michigan Avenue. The Apple Store would end up in the plaza in front of this tower. (Photograph courtesy of Artefaqs stock photography)

In its new home at Pioneer Court, an Apple Store could be the tipping point that turns the intersection of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River into the modern day focal point of Chicago, the way Civic Center Plaza (now Daley Plaza) was in the 1960’s.

Within just a few blocks there are new residential towers, new hotels, new stores, even new segments of the riverwalk opening.  It’s already where most of the tour boats gather and disgorge tourists, and where the annual Christmas shopping parade ends in a blaze of fireworks.  An Apple Store seems a logical centerpiece to the kind of consumer-centric carnivals that erupt in the very same location where Chicago was founded hundreds of years ago.

At this point, all we have to go on is Crain’s story, which carries a lot more weight than a report in some blog or news aggregator.  But, naturally, Apple isn’t talking about it.  That’s par for the course.  You can have an Apple Store almost entirely built with big Apple logos on the trademark black construction barriers and Apple still won’t talk it.  That’s just how Apple runs its circus.  But it can’t control all of the monkeys, especially when it doesn’t own the land and has to rely on outsiders to get the project completed.  So keep your eyes on Crain’s, and maybe even this blog, for more information as it leaks out.

Location: Pioneer Court, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Streeterville


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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