New Downtown Chicago Apple Store Construction Gets Serious

Drawing of the Apple Store Pioneer Square (Courtesy Foster+Partners)

Drawing of the Apple Store Pioneer Court (Courtesy Foster+Partners)

There are people who love Apple Stores.  There are people who love cranes.  Expect the two groups to squee in unison very soon, as a permit has been issued for a tower crane to help build the new Apple Store at Pioneer Court (401 North Michigan Avenue).


You’re right — it is a little unusual for a tower crane to be erected for a one-story building.  But not every building can be an Apple Store.  On Michigan Avenue.  Facing the Chicago River.  Designed by Foster+Partners.

We were the first to tell you when construction started on the project back in March.

Apple’s newest flagship store opened a little under two weeks ago in San Francisco.  It’s been widely praised for blurring the lines between retail space and “third place” community space — the way Starbucks used to be before it filled its stores with uncomfortable furniture to encourage customer turnover.

The new Apple Store Union Square is also being heavily criticized for being different by people who make a living writing catchy headlines on the internet to generate clicks.  But these are the same people who in 2001 predicted that the iPod would be a failure, writing “No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.”

Apple spent $1 million on the San Francisco store’s staircase alone.  The stairs were one of the things that the late Steve Jobs used to obsess about in his stores.  It also incorporates a “Boardroom” where the business team helps out small business owners.

Apple Store Union Square (Courtesy of Apple)

Apple Store Union Square (Courtesy of Apple)

How many of the latest Apple retail embellishments will be translated to the new Chicago store remains to be seen.  Chicago probably won’t get the multi-story glass doors, which would be completely impractical in a Chicago winter.  But changing the Genius Bar to a Genius Grove complete with indoor trees could make for a nice winter garden, like the ones at the bottom of 311 South Wacker Drive and the top of the Harold Washington Library Center (400 South State Street) in The Loop.

San Francisco has a space called “The Forum,” which appears to be the evolution of the theater space present in larger Apple Stores, including the current 2003 Michigan Avenue store.

One thing that should end up in the new Pioneer Court Apple Store is “The Plaza.”  According to Apple, it is a design feature that will be incorporated in all of its “most significant stores” going forward.  And the Chicago flagship should qualify as significant.  Apple describes The Plaza thusly:

It’s open to the public 24 hours a day, features public Wi-Fi and seating, and takes Today at Apple outside, with a regular weekend series of well known local acoustic performances such as Travis Hayes and global talents like Escondido, who will then give exclusive interviews about their craft in the Forum.

We’re over 30, so we don’t know who Travis Hayes is, either.  He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but there is someone by that name on YouTube with a music video called “Bath Salts.”  Perhaps that’s what passes for edgy in San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Apple had a blank slate to work with.  In Chicago, it’s not completely at liberty to build what it wants.  At the same time, it’s not bound by the physical restrictions of a mall or a historic building.  These days when Apple can do what it wants, it builds a glass box with a floating mezzanine level inside.   The last free-standing store without a mezzanine was the Apple Store Omotesando in Tokyo, where we happened to be just a few weeks ago.

Apple Store Omotesando - 002a

Apple Store Omotesando

You can see how Apple might look at a single-level box and think about wasted potential.

In Chicago, the renderings from Foster+Partners do show a mezzanine level, but it looks like a transition space between stairs, not actual retail space.

Drawing of the Apple Store Pioneer Square (Courtesy Foster+Partners)

Drawing of the Apple Store Pioneer Square (Courtesy Foster+Partners)

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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