Apple Store Liberty. The first Italian flagship store changes the face of a piazza in Milan

Lombardy stone, an amphitheatre with terraces and fountains. More than just a point of sale, the new Apple Store by Foster + Partners is a scenographic tribute to Italy.

Foster + Partners, Apple Store Liberty, Milan, 2018

“La Dolce vita” is a view of Italy which has little to do with Milan, yet the way in which the new Apple Store Liberty has managed to adapt it to the city is a perfect example of its austere spirit. There are those who know how to revel in luxury in these parts, of course, but they steer clear of exhibitionism. In this sense, the fact that it is not immediately clear that the glass structure surrounded by fountains in the centre of Piazza Liberty - just a short distance from San Babila - is the entrance to the first Apple flagship store in Italy will be a source of delight to the Milanese. Even more appreciated is the fact that, as Franca Valeri said of the composure of the shop windows in nearby Via Montenapoleone, apart from the symbol of the bitten apple discretely applied to the structure, there is no sign of an iPhone, iPad or MacBook Pro in sight. These are instead to be found two floors underground, in an organised space with specially-designed wooden tables, just like in all the Apple stores.

The reason for this apparent commercial obscurity lies in the role that this retail space seeks to play in the urban fabric of Milan, which is to provide a new space where people can spend time, talk, and meet friends, attracted by a 56-jet fountain which reaches a height of eight metres, and a second element which characterises the typical structure of an Italian square: the chromatic uniformity of the materials used. In this case, Beola Grigia stone. This has not been used simply to pave the ground, but to create a “square” terraced amphitheatre which, facing one of the sides of the fountain, represents the space dedicated to the city. Open 24 hours a day, it will in fact be the venue for a multitude of events, including film screenings.

Achieving this level of design austerity in a place like Italy, with its rich historical and artistic background, was not a simple task. As Stefan Behling, Executive partner of Foster + Partners, who worked in close contact with the Apple team, explained: “The Liberty store is our artistic interpretation of Italian urban talent: a large external theatre and another underground”. The two are connected, as the sales area, despite being “at the bottom of the stairs, is not in a dark well”, underlines Stefan. It is illuminated by a series of windows which from below reveal glimpses of the movement in the amphitheatre.

Furthermore, the underground structure that has been obtained in the space that used to house the auditoriums of the Apollo cinema has also been constructed with the same Beola Grigia as the upper area. This is also the case with the mezzanine level, which is reached via a very particularly-designed staircase, made up of steps that when seen from below assume a sculptural form in prismatic metal. This is an inevitable solution to the desire for a single lateral anchoring of the steps, together with that of achieving a special play of refracted sunlight coming in from the glass structure above. Taking the staircase causes a very slight disorientation, but with all that water running down the walls, to fall lightly on the first basement floor, covering the view of the amphitheatre, it comes across as a pleasant sensation which has been carefully designed.

Foster + Partners, Apple Store Liberty, Milan, 2018
Foster + Partners, Apple Store Liberty, Milan, 2018

The Apple Store Liberty is not, however, only a piazza, a transparent architectural structure and an arena in which to rest one’s body and eyes. it is also, and above all, a place for technological and cultural renewal. One of the cities with the most number of initiatives, weeks dedicated to design, to wellness, and to food is now further enhanced with the “Today at Apple” programme taking place in the forum area of the store. Free sessions of film-making, music and coding, open to all, with registration via the website. The sessions will be aided by a video wall, which will create immersive experiences. Outside, there will be workshops dedicated to the acquisition of new photographic skills.

September will see “The Milano Series”, sessions held by 21 creative minds, including musicians and illustrators who, on the occasion of this new launch, have interpreted the energy of Milan and analysed it for possible futures, beginning with the question: “What will you tomorrow, Milan?”. However, the most pressing question is another: will the Milanese manage to make this square one of their habitual venues, as was the case for Gae Aulenti? Will all the “Apple pride” with which Giuseppe Caropreso, head of retail, has defined all this mass of information, design and environmental attention be enough? Unity of form and a layout similar to the contemplative theatres of the New York skyline seem to be excellent reasons to believe so. There are even fountains to provide relief to parents with lively children. The doubt regards a very central area which, in the evening, having removed the business people and tourists, quickly empties, without the support provided to Piazza Gae Aulenti by the nearby late-night bars, clubs and restaurants of Corso Como. But the challenge has just been set.

Apple Store Liberty
flagship store
Foster & Partners
Milan, Italy

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