February 18, 2009

Apple Store Tries to Wedge Modernism into Georgetown

A fair amount of debate has been raging lately about the proposed new Apple store in Georgetown and the Old Georgetown Board's refusal to approve any design that the company submits. Apple has submitted four separate proposals for the store, which sits on a site on Wisconsin Avenue directly at the end of Prospect Street.

Apple initially submitted a design back in 2007, only to be rejected by the Old Georgetown Board. Having been rejected, Apple came up with a few other designs, each a little more outlandish and inappropriate, seemingly to make their first design appear to be reasonable in comparison.

Throughout this whole process, from the initial design to the latest design shown here, Apple has shown an apparent disregard for the character of Georgetown and how its building should fit in with the street.

The first design, while not as insane as the second or third designs, still displayed an amateurish lack of understanding of classical detail and scaling. The building as a whole appears no better than the post-modern building it intends to replace. The facade stands half a story taller than its neighbors, disregarding a clear precedent of floor heights and scale, the windows are detailed incorrectly and the cornice is boxy, clunky and shows a lack of attention to detail.

If the first design was denied approval as being inappropriate, what in the world make Apple think that its second and third designs submitted would be approved? The second and third designs apparently came from the old huckster's trick of telling the biggest whopper possible to make your initial suggestion seem reasonable in comparison.

Some may like the glass box or the big Apple sign for a facade, but the Old Georgetown Board is right to dismiss such nonsense out of hand. Even the last design submitted is no more than a false facade that will only serve to be a store and nothing more. Sure it might make for a great billboard for Apple now, but what happens when the company goes out of business, or decides that having a storefront is no longer a viable business model? Could any of these designs be used for something else?

Georgetown as a community would then be stuck with a building that is either a curiosity, no longer of any use, or a new owner would have to spend significant money to build yet another building. In these days of environmental awareness, wouldn't the issue of convertibility in the future be considered?

The issue is one of permanence and a neighborhood as a larger work of art. The issue is not as one commenter called it "historic preservation gone mad" but that Georgetown as a neighborhood has a certain character that is defined by its buildings, that is larger than any of its parts, but also composed of them. Historic buildings are not valued in Georgetown simply because they are old, as some would falsely claim, but are valued because they are beautiful and display a humane scale. The combination of so many buildings with such characteristics is what gives Georgetown a harmony that few other places have, a harmony that is destroyed by buildings such as Apple's design.

Apple, not the Old Georgetown Board, are to blame for not getting a store built in Georgetown because of their lack of understanding this simple point. That buildings are not like a work of art to be displayed in a museum or in a vacuum, but that buildings are a part of a larger work of art, the art of a city.


Margaret E. Perry said...

This is a great post. I happen to like the modernism of Apple Stores--but within reason. And in Georgetown this is completely out of place, and inappropriate.

Your last point is really good: what happens when Apple no longer wants this store. But lets take it to a different level: what happens when Apple no longer wants this design. Remember when the original day-glow curvy MacBook was the hot new design trend in technology. That didn't last.

The ultra sleek and modern Apple Stores are fine in new strip malls, but they are completely out of place on M Street/Wisconsin.

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