That's not a roof on the Chicago Apple store; it is the poster child for unsustainable design

apple store chicago
© Apple/ Foster + Partners

It is a giant electric radiator that they forgot to turn on due to a software failure.

Apple's new Chicago store is a beautiful thing, with a 111 by 98 foot carbon fibre roof that Apple says is "designed to be as thin as possible, and the entire structure is supported by four interior pillars that allow the 32-foot glass facades to remain unobscured." Jony Ives says “Apple Michigan Avenue is about removing boundaries between inside and outside, reviving important urban connections within the city.” Architectural critic Blair Kamin calls it "an understated gem."

roof detail© Apple/ Foster + Partners

It certainly looked beautiful in summer. But right now, in the middle of a cold Chicago winter, there are caution signs all around it as icicles and runoff make walking anywhere near the building treacherous. Blogger Matt Maldre notes:

Maybe next time Apple will consider the actual community where their stores are built. Y’know, basic things like in Chicago, the weather gets cold. It snows. The snow falls off the roof. Don’t design a sloping roof where the snow can’t be caught or guttered off somewhere.

Blair Kamin defends the building and the architects, TreeHugger Favourites Foster + Partners.

...let's put this in perspective. Winter happens. And architects often aren't prepared for it. Such shortcomings undercut their achievements and their credibility as problem-solvers. Yet the faults do not altogether vanquish the value of their designs.

It turns out to be a software problem. Kamin explains:

Apple spokesman Nick Leahy on Friday said the building's architects, London-based Foster + Partners, had designed the glass-walled store with winter in mind, but had been foiled by a technical malfunction. "The roof has a warming system that's built into it," he said. "It needed some fine-tuning and it got re-programmed today. It's hopefully a temporary problem." In addition, he said, the store was designed to drain water — not through conventional gutters, but through four internal support columns.

Kamin tries to make a case that sometimes architects bend the rules for what he thinks really matters: "how buildings and the rest of the built environment shape human experience."

Perhaps. It may be a Chicago thing, buildings that appear designed to waste heat, that engineer Ted Kesik has called "architectural pornography" with their radiator fin designs. This one is even worse; it actually is a radiator, a giant carbon fibre electric powered radiator designed to melt the snow on its roof.

I love apple products, and I love Norman Foster. But really, this building, with its single glazed laminated glass and its electric radiator roof, is a monument to unsustainable design.

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