Trib: New Mag Mile Apple Store Echoes Frank Lloyd Wright

Sketch of the entrance of the new underground Apple Store planned for Pioneer Court, 401 North Michigan Avenue (via The Chicago Tribune)

Sketch of the entrance of the new underground Apple Store planned for Pioneer Court, 401 North Michigan Avenue (via the Chicago Tribune)

A day before the details of Apple, Inc.’s new North Michigan Avenue Store were to be unveiled to the public, the Chicago Tribune has managed to get its hands on a draft of the plans.

The proposal has been on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission for about two weeks, listed as a “courtesy presentation.” It is not unusual for developers to present a plan to the commission to gauge reaction, then revise it and submit it for formal approval at a later date. But according to the Tribune, the reason this is a “courtesy” is that the proposal was approved by the commission two days ago. Whether that is a violation of state open meetings laws is an exercise for the reader.

Apple Store #453 in Chongqing, China (Courtesy of Apple)

Apple Store #453 in Chongqing, China (Courtesy of Apple)

The design is by one of the world’s hottest architecture firms, London’s Foster+Partners. It’s the same company that designed Apple’s massive new spaceship-shaped headquarters now under construction in Silicon Valley.

While Apple is famous for its pioneering glass cube store designs in New York and Istanbul, and the evolution of that design into a cylinder in Chongquing, China, what’s planned for Pioneer Court here in Chicago is more akin to Apple’s new store in Aix-en-Provence, France, which opened last summer. That store features a low, expansive roof and glass walls. While the French store is supported by a rear wall, the plan for Chicago is to use two minimalist columns to mainly hold the roof aloft.

Apple Store #426 in Aix-en-Provence, France (Courtesy of Apple)

Apple Store #426 in Aix-en-Provence, France (Courtesy of Apple)

This is likely possible because Chicago’s store is actually underground, so it requires a smaller roof since it is only sheltering the entrance to the store, and not directly responsible for protecting a million dollars worth of iDevices and MacBooks like its French counterpart.

According to a sketch published by the Tribune, the design echoes Chicago’s Prairie school of architecture, with a warm-colored roof, possibly accented with wood. The two columns are widely spaced, like some kind of Frank Lloyd Wrightian dining table. However as we all know, sketches are often only third cousins to the reality that gets built. And there’s a rule of thumb about how the bigger and more famous the architect is, the more divorced his sketches are from reality.

The Chicago Tribune has more nuggets about this proposal on its web site. Like how the underground portion of the building will address the river. However, the story is locked behind a paywall. So if you’re not a subscriber, the newspaper that used to serve Chicago will politely ask you to go sit in a corner and pound sand.

We’ll have a reporter at tomorrow’s Plan Commission meeting and will bring you what information we can, as always, for free.

Location: 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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