When news broke of the third ever Apple Store in Singapore, a single image went viral. An almost neo-futuristic, tinted glass dome with the distinctive Apple logo in red projected on the front. The dome seemed to float upon the water in the Marina Bay Sands area, and the closer you got to it, the more apparent its breathtaking scale become.
Purely from the outside the store seemed to upend all the expectations of what an Apple Store should look like, while at the same time fitting seamlessly into the design of the surrounding The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. T Singapore spoke to Chris Braithwaite, senior director, Worldwide Retail Design at Apple to find out more about the concept and design features of what has quickly established itself as one of Apple’s most unique stores.
According to Braithwaite the concept of the store was based on a simple idea. “What we imagined was a clear bubble floating in the water,” he says. While the idea could be perfectly distilled into this simple concept, the execution it required was on a whole other level.
The dome, which has a 30-metre diameter and is 70 metres tall, was the first of its kind in terms of both its shape and floating structure. Inspired by the architecture and the incredible landscape of the Marina Bay, another aim of the store was to offer spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding bay area. Built over what was the former South Crystal Pavilion at the Shoppes at the Marina Bay Sands, there were many challenges when it came to the conceptualising and building this store.
Courtesy of Apple
Inspired by The Pantheon, an oculus at the apex of the dome provides a flooding ray of light, with custom sunshade rings lining the interior glass.
The dome itself comprises 114 pieces of glass with only 10, narrow, vertical mullions for structural connection and to conceal the technical infrastructure. It is an engineering marvel. As a result of that, you get this wonderful column-free, circular space that provides uninterrupted 360-degree views of the city.
“Having to build our interpretation of the sister pavilion that complements the scale and materiality of what exists today was, was a real challenge. But we were very lucky that we managed to assemble a world-class team that took on that challenge and very methodically worked through the process,” says Braithwaite.
Courtesy of Apple
Set on the Marina Bay waterfront, the store has 360-degree views of the city.
While Apple worked with the architecture firm Foster + Partners, it also consulted closely with the Sands Corporation as well as Moshe Safdi, the original architect of Marina Bay Sands, as it wanted to respect the original design and make sure that its new building seamlessly integrated in terms of materiality and scale. “[It was about] having that respect for what has gone before, and how we play our small part in what will come later. And it’s something we work really, really hard at,” says Braithwaite.
To hear Braithwaite talk about the building process for the new store is to understand the planning and intensive attention to detail that was involved. The store is made principally of glass, a material that Apple has always had a strong association with. “The dome itself comprises 114 pieces of glass with only 10, narrow, vertical mullions for structural connection and to conceal the technical infrastructure. It is an engineering marvel. As a result of that, you get this wonderful column-free, circular space that provides uninterrupted 360-degree views of the city,” says Braithwaite.
Courtesy of Apple
The Forum is a communal area that’s set to stage Singapore’s artists, musicians, and creatives for Today at Apple sessions.
Even within the dome much thought has been put on the design. The glass itself has a continuously gradiating pattern where it’s clear at the floor level and then darkens as it moves towards the top. This results in what Braithwaite calls “the blurring of lines between the inside and the outside.” At the apex of the dome, there’s a clear circle of glass that forms an oculus, which creates a dramatic shaft of light that travels through the space. Braithwaite said the design was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.
Inside the store, care has also been taken to create a space that is both beautiful and practical. “The interior of the glass is lined with custom baffles to further ameliorate the local climate. It also provides a nighttime lighting effect and each ring is shaped to address the sun’s angles and visibility. We did lots of studies to assess all of that and it resulted in this really unique design. On top of that, we wanted to bring the ‘Garden City’ green of Singapore into the store. And so around the perimeter of the dome you have 10 trees, and they provide additional shading and also soft shadows to create the dappling effect of lush foliage, which we think is going to be very calming,” says Braithwaite.
Courtesy of Apple
The “floating” store is interconnected with an underground pathway to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
The store itself can be accessed through basement two of The Shoppes and the experience of doing so also promises a certain sense of scale. “We have a generous, curved stone entrance that takes you into the store and our first in-store escalator that is fully wrapped in mirrored, polished stainless steel. This creates a sensory experience as you make your way up the escalator towards the grand reveal of the dome upon arrival,” says Braithwaite. Inside the store there are two main levels: the basement level and the dome. The dome sits slightly above the promenade level on the water. Other key highlights include a forum area inside the dome which is centred around a video wall, as well as a boardroom located on basement one. “The purpose of the boardroom is to provide a place where entrepreneurs, developers, and other small- and medium-sized business customers can get, their hands on advice in a dedicated space,” says Braithwaite.
Courtesy of Apple
At night, the store glows and its interior is visible from the outside.
With every new Apple Store, care is taken to ensure that the stores not only are functional, beautiful and intuitive — but that each fits into the local architecture. “We work very hard at trying to make all of our stores feel appropriate to the communities in which they reside, while retaining a very strong brand identity of Apple,” says Braithwaite. At the same time while each store may result from intensive research and complex details, the end result should feel natural to the consumer. “Apple Stores are incredibly complex, but what we hope when people visit them is that they feel incredibly simple and intuitive. And that really is at the heart everything that we try and do at Apple with the ultimate aim of surprising and delighting our customers,” says Braithwaite.
Unbeknownst to many, Apple has a relatively long history with Singapore. The first Apple office opened on the island almost 40 years ago in 1981. Following the opening of the brand’s first ever Orchard Road store in 2017 and Jewel Changi Airport store in 2019, Marina Bay Sands was always an option as the brand felt the site had huge potential for Apple retail. “When we embarked on our site selection for retail stores in Singapore, we’ve always felt that Marina Bay Sands would be a wonderful place to serve our customers,” says Braithwaite. “And we wanted to do it in a way that was respectful to the surrounding environment, but also felt very much like Apple.”
Apple Marina Bay Sands opens this Thursday, 10 September at 10am to the public by reservations only.
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