Apple's new Union Square store will not even reach fountain of controversy

in General Discussion edited January 2014
After a newspaper columnist fretted about the potential impact of Apple's new Union Square store on a homely fountain from the 70s, the issue was escalated up to San Francisco's mayor despite the fact that the new building's outline won't even reach the fountain behind it.

New Union Square Apple Store location

Nobody involved in creating or spreading the invented controversy took the time to measure out where Apple's planned store would reach. Instead, "architecture critic" John King merely jumped to the conclusion that the new store "would displace one of downtown's friendliest works of public art."

Measuring off 80 feet from the front of the Levi's building leaves 6 feet of space, enough for an average adult to lie down (and roughly where the woman is sitting, above) before arriving at the 15 foot wide "folk art" fountain. Another 30 feet of plaza would remain between the fountain and the Hyatt, which owns the plaza.

As originally reported by Apple retail watchdog IFOAppleStore, the outline of the new store (shown in the city assessor?s map of the block, below) would actually return considerably more space to the plaza area than it would take back.

Source: ifoAppleStore

And while King fondly referred the the fountain's "popular plaza," the reality is that space is both literally and figuratively cold and barren. Even on a beautiful day like today, there were very few people using the plaza even at lunch. Two of the six people in the plaza area appeared to be TV reporters capturing footage to report on King's tempest in a teapot.

Looking out from the rear of the plaza (below), it's not difficult to see why it's not the "popular" space King described: it is shaded, uninviting, bleak and offers little to look at apart from the taxi line of the Hyatt.

New Union Square Apple Store location

Across Post Street, the far more inviting Union Square was hosting an art show and dozens of people were sitting, chatting and soaking up sun on the adjacent steps where the urban landscape is broken up by grass and trees.

New Union Square Apple Store location

New Union Square Apple Store location

New Union Square Apple Store location

New Union Square Apple Store location

Thinking outside the triangle

King also castigated the design and aesthetics of the planned Apple store, calling it "boxy" in reference to the fact that the more conventional outline of the planned store replaces the triangular retail building currently occupied by Levi's. The structure was built as part of the adjacent Hyatt hotel in 1973.

Apple plans to demolish the existing structure and replace it with a "box," no doubt because the existing pie shaped building is a very poor use of space, with much of the interior consumed by a spiraling stairway and glass elevator structure, leaving the remaining retail area broken up into areas further dominated by ramps and other efforts to make the oddly designed space accessible.

New Union Square Apple Store location

Levi's already has plans to vacate the building and open a new store two blocks away on Market Street, near Apple's existing retail store. Apple in turn, plans to build a larger store in that location to replace its increasingly cramped, current flagship.

King also worried that the new store has an all glass front, "exposed to direct sunlight nearly the entire day." In stark contract, the existing Levi's store has boarded up its street level windows and doesn't even offer much of a view of Union Square from its higher floors due to its bizarre floor plans.

New Union Square Apple Store location

New Union Square Apple Store location

Real urban criticism needed

More substantial urban design critics have recommend an even larger building than Apple has planned. Union Square, which has the distinction of being the world's first underground parking garage, was intended to be surrounded by a street wall of taller buildings, similar to other famous urban plazas.

Many of the stores and hotels surrounding the park are around ten stories, including the historic 11 story Tiffany Building next to it and the modern 8 story Macy's located across the square (the view from Macy's, below). The turn of the century portion of the Westin St. Francis hotel on the west end of the square is 12 stories. At the east end, an iPad billboard sits atop a building, more than ten stories in the air.

New Union Square Apple Store location

The squatty Hyatt triangle was built in the 1970s during a period of San Francisco's urban decay, and reflects none of the urban grandeur of the rest of the square. Unfortunately, there is little political will to push Apple to build a more substantial building on the corner, despite San Francisco's General Plan specifying a policy to "preserve retail service businesses in upper floor offices in the retail district."

Instead, Apple is simply upgrading an oddly shaped structure into a far more inviting, if simple and still rather small, retail storefront that invites attention from the busy Union Square (below), rather than either thinking big in grand urban terms or trying to preserve every aspect of a dowdy, little used set of bleak steps surrounding an oversized fountain behind it.


Viewed in Apple Maps Flyover (below), the existing Levi's building next to the Hyatt tower is located at the top right at the north east corner of Union Square. Apple's existing retail store is three blocks down Stockton street, in the lower left of the graphic.

New Union Square Apple Store location

Apple has "gone big" in other locations, such as its Ginza store in Tokyo, which occupies several floors of an eight story building, or various new stores in prime urban locations in cities such as Berlin and Madrid. In all of these examples however, Apple was occupying space in a large existing building rather than building from scratch.


  • Reply 1 of 58
    nomadmacnomadmac Posts: 96member
    ascetics > aesthetics
  • Reply 2 of 58
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Where on that city assessor's map is fountain located? To be clear, the proposed Apple Store location is the area in blue?
  • Reply 3 of 58
    shogunshogun Posts: 362member
    Yeah. Nothing like a fountain pressed into the shadow of a massive building, six feet from a sheer wall of stone. What's the big deal?
  • Reply 4 of 58
    isaidsoisaidso Posts: 750member
    Not a single one of those pictures helps me orient how I'm looking at what.
    I don't know wat I'm lookin' at.
  • Reply 5 of 58
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,020member


    Originally Posted by Shogun View Post

    Yeah. Nothing like a fountain pressed into the shadow of a massive building, six feet from a sheer wall of stone. What's the big deal?

    Yep.  No one see's it right now, and it has even more open space.  Behind a big building, and it will be forgotten.  Best to move it and use the extra lot space for another structure or maybe even a bigger Apple store.  dunno.  It's such a waste of space where as it is now.

  • Reply 6 of 58
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,789member
    Have walked past the "folk art" fountain many times.
    Hardly even noticed it.
  • Reply 7 of 58
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    I understood from the first story on this that the fountain didn't fall into the store's footprint. That was always clear. But I was led to believe that Apple planned changes AROUND the building as well, which included removal of the stairs that hold the fountain.

    If so, that's easily changed without changing the building itself, I would think. I'm all for preserving the fountain as an item of artistic interest, but EVERYTHING else in that area could use a change! The Apple Store will probably bring more traffic to the fountain than it ever had before.
  • Reply 8 of 58
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,020member


    Originally Posted by isaidso View Post

    Not a single one of those pictures helps me orient how I'm looking at what.

    I don't know wat I'm lookin' at.

    GoogleMap "Union Square".  It's on the corner of Stockton/Post.  The fountain can be clearly seen (in the shadow) on the upper-right corner near the tiny red structure.

    I'd attach a screen-shot, but I cannot attach images. :/


  • Reply 9 of 58
    its roughly where "275.896" appears on the outline map. shows you an overhead.

    And yes, solipsismx, the proposed Apple store is outlined in blue.

  • Reply 10 of 58
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
  • Reply 11 of 58
    isaidsoisaidso Posts: 750member

    So the plaza is "behind" the Apple store?  Apple store front is facing the park (Post St)?


    Edit: Thanks sflocal (That stands for San Fernando local, right?) Hee.

  • Reply 12 of 58
    jmacfanjmacfan Posts: 2member


    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

    Where on that city assessor's map is fountain located? To be clear, the proposed Apple Store location is the area in blue?

    The source of the map ifoAppleStore has a caption that says the dashed blue line is 60 feet back from the Post Street property line. So the blue box does not reflect the 80 foot depth that both John King and this post reference as the depth of the building.


    Caption from ifoAppleStore article

    "This city assessor’s map of the block shows the current Levi’s retail store building in red on parcel #16. The blue lines outline the anticipated location of the Apple retail store, with the rear wall (dotted line) at 60 feet. The remainder of the parcel to the north is the Grand Hyatt Hotel building and the its triangular entrance plaza. Click on the graphic for a larger view."

  • Reply 13 of 58
    All of this "controversy" simply glosses over one central truth: that fountain is HIDEOUS.
  • Reply 14 of 58
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,639member
    I agree that it seems to be much ado about nothing, but having said that, this article doesn't even resemble journalism and if Apple had written it themselves, it wouldn't have lavished such praise on Apple.

    Can we even attempt to be fair? The Apple Store they're building looks like it's going to be similar to the Lincoln Square store in New York City. It's a beautiful store, but I do have to wonder whether a greenhouse design is appropriate for California. Although downtown SF can be pretty cold most of the year, especially in the shadows, I wonder how much extra air conditioning is needed to power such a design. It's also difficult to tell from the rendering how well the Apple store fits in with the adjacent buildings. On the other hand, while I haven't been in Union Square for some years, I don't remember it being very architecturally significant, aside from the park itself, in which case it almost doesn't matter what Apple builds.

    But Apple could improve its relationship to the other buildings by raising the height so that it matches the height of the two buildings immediately to the left.
  • Reply 15 of 58
    jmacfanjmacfan Posts: 2member

    After reading the first few paragraphs of this article I almost stopped as it seemed to be a rambling article only bashing the John King article. But then I got to the end to "Real urban criticism needed" and I was intrigued as I think this is the most important point of the article. Apple has the opportunity to do some thing great here and instead they have provided us with a simple box. The article title should have been "Real urban criticism needed"


    I look at this article and John King's article as simply saying we should expect more of any building in San Francisco.

  • Reply 16 of 58
    djones34djones34 Posts: 1member
    Everyone is fixating on this fountain and plaza but the big issue is that the new building will simply be out of character for Union Square and Stockton St. Instead of a nice plaza and stairs that wander down to Stockton, there is going to be this monolithic aluminum-looking, harsh, wall on Stockton. It will completely change the character there and won't fit in with the rest of the surrounding architecture.

    The author of this story doesn't appear to have an eye for this sort of thing and seems to be overly... Apple-apologetic. This is San Francisco and just because it's Apple doesn't mean it's an automatically given thing that it will happen.

    The people who live and work in this area are the real experts and they (we) are upset.
  • Reply 17 of 58
    I think Apple should put the fountain inside the store to shut everyone up! LOL! Make it the centerpiece! ;-)
  • Reply 18 of 58
    suddenly newtonsuddenly newton Posts: 13,812member
    I say we all get our pitchforks and picket signs and go down to city hall and fight this evil. /s
  • Reply 19 of 58
    The criticism was that the Apple Store plan drawings, which you can check out here,

    did not include the fountain. No one would address the issue when inquiries were made. Mayor Lee said he didn't even notice the Stockton Street side of the proposed building (a larger problem here). The excellent John King raised design issues and now folks are talking about it.

    Where's the beef (or substance(!)) in this editorial?

  • Reply 20 of 58
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member
    so far, there has been no image provided, as far as i know, showing what the fountain side of the new Apple building will be like. so we all really can't say much about it - assuming the fountain will be retained in that location somehow - until we see more of the plans.

    the statement "Union Square, which has the distinction of being the world's first underground parking garage, was intended to be surrounded by a street wall of taller buildings, similar to other famous urban plazas" is ... weird and historically wrong. Union Square of course was laid out in the early 1850's during the Gold Rush, and such intent was impossible way back then. and i don't know when such intent was ever present. the Beaux Arts landmark-quality City of Paris and Fitzhugh buildings built after the 1906 quake/fire that actually did frame the Square like that were savagely demolished for the boringly mediocre Neiman Marcus and Saks buildings in the 1970's. that wasn't about "urban decay," that was about developers' crass stupidity and greed. the site of the Hyatt Hotel and Levi Store (originally a snazzy two level restaurant, which explains the surviving spiral stairs) was the Plaza Hotel, a [S]five[/S] seven story California Mission style building without distinction. the several surviving smaller buildings around the square are effectively protected from demolition by the Planning Code to maintain what finer-grained streetscape still survives - there is no intent at all for a "wall of taller buildings" for those sites.

    all you newbie tech folks, including you DED, really need to get your urban history straight. it is much different, much more complex, than the superficial scripts and memes you find on websites. do research.
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