Baffled by Winter, Left Coast Bloggers Jump Ugly on Chicago’s Apple Store

Since this publication began almost 15 years ago, we’ve always stated there is a big difference between blogging and journalism.  That became evident over this New Year’s Eve weekend, when a bunch of 20-somethings with smartphones who like to play journalist lit up the internet with cries that there was something wrong with the new Apple flagship store at Pioneer Court.

Sadly, it started with local blogger Matt Maldre who posted a photograph on his blog showing the Apple Store with sandwich board signs next to it warning, “Watch for Falling Show and Ice.”  Matt gave his photograph and accompanying accusatory essay the unfortunate clickbiat title “Design flaw in Apple flagship store.”

Apple Store Pioneer Court (Courtesy of Apple)

Apple Store Pioneer Court (Courtesy of Apple)

How he knew there was a design flaw is hard to say.  He is neither an architect, nor an engineer.  Nor is he in any way related to the construction industry.  He describes himself as a “graphic designer and public spaces artist.”  Public spaces artist usually means graffiti vandal, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Mr. Maldre’s photo, headline, and accompanying snark caught the attention of national Apple blogger John Gruber.  Again, not a journalist, but a blogger for Daring Fireball, which was once highly respected as a breaker of Apple news, but is now more often caught in the same cycle of hysteria and hyperbole that afflicts most online publications.

From there, the story was aped by all of the big tech blogs in the SFO-PDX-SEA left coast tech echo chamber: The Verge, Mashable, 9 to 5 Mac, Ars Technica, and dozens of others reaching millions of people.  This led to those mainstream media outlets that are struggling to make the transition to digital to copy the story as well.  And in keeping with today’s journalism standards, it was publish first, gather facts later — if at all.  Among the guilty parties are Newsweek, KCBS, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Our local media went more cautiously into the fray, actually bothering to check out the story instead of taking the word of some random stranger at a bus stop that there was a problem.  To wit:

  • We learned that the roof of the Apple Store at Pioneer Court does have a heating system.
  • The heating system didn’t do as good a job as it could have, which is not unexpected as this is the first major cold snap of its first winter.  Tweaks are always made once real-world conditions are encountered.
  • The building has no gutters, so the water created by the heating system is supposed to drain through pipes in the support columns.
  • The computer system controlling the rooftop heating will be (probably has been by the time you read this) reprogrammed.

The Chicago Sun-Times talked to a consultant for the London architecture firm Foster + Partners that designed the store.  She claimed that ice wasn’t a major consideration when it was designed.  An Apple spokesperson disputes this, and we’re going to have to go with Apple on this one for two reasons.  First, they obviously thought about snow and ice or the roof wouldn’t have a heating system in it to melt snow and ice.  And secondly, I don’t know how things work at your office, but where I nine-to-five it, outside consultants get only a small window into the work we do.  They are in no way informed of every aspect of what we do, or even given full details of the projects they are brought in to consult on.  They are told what they need to know.

The big golf clap here goes to the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin, who as usual, is the only journalist to actually do some real reporting here.  For that reason, his is the only article we’re linking to.  Yes, he spent half of his space on an tedious tangental moan about Apple’s secrecy, as if there haven’t been entire books written on the subject.  But up top, his article is the kind of “just the facts ma’am” that at one time made Chicago a writer’s town, and a powerhouse of journalism.

Back on point: icicles falling off of Chicago buildings is no big deal.  You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the atrial fibrillation caused by a 100-foot-long chunk of ice falling off an antenna at the John Hancock Center, and then careening down the face of the building — rushing past your windows — in a waterfall of icy cold death.

Or standing in The Shoreham staring into the darkness when a winter’s gale pries a three-story sheet of ice off The Regatta and smashes it to bits just inches from your face, protected by some apparently very sturdy glass.

Try getting the cat out from under the bed after one of those.

I know it will come as a surprise to people who live in a city where the National Weather Service issues a heat alert when it gets to 80 degrees, but this happens every winter.  To drive that point home, enjoy this photo gallery of falling ice signs taken at various buildings around downtown Chicago that aren’t the Apple Store.


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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