Monday, October 25, 2010

New Apple Store, North/Clybourn Station, and the Plaza in Between -- Great and Not Urban Enough

Chicago has just gained a very wonderful, and not very urban, public space, formed by the newly opened Apple store and the refurbished Chicago Transit Authority train station at the intersection of North and Clybourn avenues (see site plan, to left). Just days old, the plaza appears quite popular with couples on this balmy October night (see top photo). With movable chairs, a fountain, and good connection to adjacent streets and two destinations (the station and the store), the plaza seems well-designed for success.

The Apple store is, of course, very handsome and alternatingly welcoming and harsh (see bottom photo of the store as seen from the corner of Halsted Street and North Avenue). This urban retail building is very unusual for having four facades. One of the long ones is windowless except for a small display case. The two short ends are much better. They are virtually all glass and invite a visual and physical flow through the store.

This shopping district has some of the split personality found in densifying areas of Los Angeles and Dallas. The businesses are close together and well-patronized, but the streets encourage driving and punish the pedestrian with a miserly environment. Apple is sited away from the lot-line to create an appropriately wide sidewalk, while the station still has a narrow one (see middle photo, with the wide sidewalk in the foreground, the narrow one in the background, and North Avenue to the right). The sidewalk should have been widened using some of North Avenue's unnecessary lanes. This street is unsafely wide at five lanes, which could have been reduced to three.

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