What will Apple do to Clerys clock?

Apple has a design and experiential vision for its stores so what will it do if it opens in Clerys?

 

“The most important thing we set in our design criteria is we wanted to create very distinct experiences for customers, in what they perceive as a public place. More like a great library, which has natural light, and it feels like a gift to the community. In a perfect world, that’s what we want our stores to be. And we don’t want the store to be about the product, but about a series of experiences that make it more than a store.” – Ron Johnson, then senior vice president of retail operations of Apple stores, in 2004.

We can draw our own conclusions from the fact that many libraries are closing their doors and facing yearly funding cuts, while Apple stores continue to pop up in our towns and cities despite some analysts predicting that the company’s growth may plateau, in light of its innovation engine seemingly stalling to leave many devotees distinctly underwhelmed the past couple of years.

What direction can the company steer Steve Job’s legacy now, tech heads wonder? If the Apple flotilla is indeed facing uncharted waters of market pressure on the design front, then this does not seem to be affecting their retail ship, which remains buoyant.

It has been speculated that Natrium, an investment business, is still in negotiations with the tech giant to take a lease at the iconic Clerys site in Dublin which the consortium bought in 2015. It’s just over a year since the department store closed its doors for the final time on O’Connell Street, leaving 460 people jobless overnight.

Apple has no premises in the south of Ireland – it has a store in Victoria Square, Belfast – so if it does take up residence, what will it mean for one of the grandest old buildings on O’Connell Street?

The US company preaches an ethos of a store becoming “one with the community”, so it is only natural that many of us are curious about what design ideas they may bring to the city.

When Apple unveiled its newest store in San Francisco this year – designed with Foster and Partners – it featured a $1.5million (€1.35m) video wall, a tree-lined section called Genius Grove, and a garden that opens 24-hours with free wifi and music at the weekend.

Of course all this is fitting for the surrounds of Silicon Valley, but will it work on a cold, wet Wednesday in November in Dublin? At the other end of the design scale, Apple’s store in Covent Garden, London is based in the main historic piazza, which shows the company is willing to fit into an existing environment if it is in a prime location. So if it does take up residence on O’Connell Street one can only hope it is sympathetic to the Clerys site, and does not disturb the building’s heritage. The Clerys clock must surely be preserved, to give one obvious example. Think of how many hearts skipped a beat to its tick-tock, as so many couples met underneath it down the years to conduct affairs of the heart.

Something that should give a note of optimism to any conservation concerns surrounding Atkinson’s designs, if Apple does decide to make Clerys its home, is that the New York Landmarks Conservancy presented its Chairman’s Award to the tech company this year for its work in preserving or restoring notable historic structures in the city.

If commerce must always trump culture’s hand nowadays, then it seems we must get used to the likes of the Apple store in Grand Central Station, where the shop is on a balcony on one side of the grand terminal.

Glass, wood, and trees

The concept is part of Angela Ahrendts’ vision for the company, which has the ultimate ambition of incorporating the same design in the majority of its 400 shops in 18 countries. Ahrendts is senior vice-president of retail and online stores (she accepted the role while working as Burberry’s chief executive; Apple offered her a stock option worth up to $68 million) and alongside chief design officer Jonathan Ive, the tech company has opened a number of stores in Brussels, Istanbul, and Hangzhou in China (once again with Fosters and Partners, in a collaboration dating to 2009 with the commission for Apple Campus 2, the company’s Californian HQ).

Whatever the future holds for the Clerys building we can only hope that, with the city engaged again in its rich history due to the 1916 Rising centenary, its heritage and identity aren’t compromised unnecessarily or wantonly in the pursuit of commerce.

And this will be down to us, as citizens we must show our concerns or voice any objections we have. Some things are worth clinging on to: for the clock might stop sometimes, but we can never wind it back.

The grand old stores: The 20th century department stores and their 21st century replacements

AUSTINS DEPARTMENT STORE, DERRY Another institution that sadly closed its doors this year, after 186 years in business. Located in the city’s Diamond area, it was one of the oldest department stores in Europe, established before Harrods in London or Macy’s in New York. Its distinctive Edwardian Baroque frontage, built in 1906 by MA Robinson after the original building was destroyed by fire, looms over the busiest junction in Derry.

BENSON & RIXON COMPANY DEPARTMENT STORE, CHICAGO

Alfred S Alschuler was one of Chicago’s most esteemed architects, who designed the London Guarantee Building in 1923. His Benson & Rixon department store of 1937 is a masterpiece of Modernism, with its curves and glass block windows. The building is now a McDonald’s.

CLERYS DEPARTMENT STORE, DUBLIN

Clerys was built on Dublin’s O’Connell Street between 1918 and 1922 after the original site was destroyed in the Easter Rising, its design was inspired by Selfridges of London, built a decade earlier. The great ionic columns and two floors of regal Portland stone are credited to Ashlin and Coleman, but it is thought the building is the work of Liverpudlian Robert Frank Atkinson (and not Thomas Coleman) from his time working as an assistant at the Dublin practice. Atkinson had previously worked on Selfridges along with Daniel H Burnham and also spent some time in Chicago. Clerys closed its doors last year after it was bought by the Natrium consortium.

APPLE STORE, UNION SQUARE SAN FRANCISCO Opened earlier this year, the new store features new design elements as well as community programmes including the “genius grove” where customers can get support under a canopy of local trees, and “the plaza”, a public space that will be open 24 hours a day. Visitors enter the store through 42ft tall sliding glass doors. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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