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A look back at the construction of Chicago’s new Michigan Avenue Apple store

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How Apple connected an elevated plaza to the river with a see-through box

Apple’s low-slung roof utilizes a steel frame topped by lightweight carbon fibre panels.
Harry Carmichael

Today marks the official opening of Apple’s new flagship location in downtown Chicago and the glassy riverfront is overrun with Apple and architecture fans alike. Designed by London-based Foster + Partners, the structure was essentially carved out of the side of the Pioneer Court office plaza at a cost of $27 million.

While the project doesn’t soar high into the air like one of Chicago’s famous skyscrapers, it does contain a number of interesting touches and clever detail. For example, the store’s curved glass walls work together with four columns to help support the building’s ultra-light carbon fiber roof panels.

The glass is comprised of thin sheets laminated together like “glass plywood” for structural support, Stefan Behling tells architecture critic Blair Kamin. The Chicago Tribune columnist declared the building an “understated gem” in a piece published this morning.

Design buffs aren’t the only ones to recognize the value of Apple’s design and location. Before the store was complete, investor Walton Street Capital purchased the property for $71.4 million as part of its $360 million acquisition of the neighboring Equitable Building office tower for $360 million, reported Crain’s Chicago Business. Fetching $3,571 per square foot, the deal was one of the priciest retail property sales in Chicago history.

Expected to accommodate 250 employees and an endless line of shoppers and curious onlookers, the new store at 401 N. Michigan is a worthy addition to Chicago’s riverfront and has been a popular talking point on the city’s many architectural boat tours since breaking ground in early 2016.

Here’s a year-long look back on the unique structure’s construction process:

After excavating the south edge of Pioneer Court, crews erected one of Chicago’s shortest tower cranes.
Harry Carmichael
The construction crane was assembled in early September of 2016.
Harry Carmichael
Workers pour concrete to form the store’s foundation.
Harry Carmichael
Lower Michigan Avenue was a flurry of activity as well.
Harry Carmichael
Blue ductwork for the project’s forced air system.
Harry Carmichael
The store’s riverfront location meant crews could utilize floating barges for staging and material delivery.
Harry Carmichael
One of the high-tech roof’s carbon panels.
Harry Carmichael
Being hoisted into position.
Harry Carmichael
Some serious glass.
Harry Carmichael
The roof is mainly hollow.
Harry Carmichael
One of four bird deterrent devices placed on Apple’s roof during construction. The long, flat roof still managed to collect a large amount of guano.
Harry Carmichael
Landscaping and plaza reconstruction.
Harry Carmichael
If the project made any egregious architectural faux pas, it was painting over the limestone panels facing the river.
Harry Carmichael
Yikes.
Harry Carmichael
A moment of rest with a backdrop courtesy of Mies van der Rohe.
Harry Carmichael
Just about ready for primetime.
Harry Carmichael