When Apple rolls out a new product, be it the latest iPhone or a new Manhattan retail location, consumers expect something exceptional. True to form, the store Apple planned for its $26 million West 67th Street location was its largest in North America, more spectacular—involving more challenges from a construction stand point—than any of its previous New York locations.

“As a client, Apple is extremely demanding—they expect perfection, anything else will not be tolerated, whether the paperwork or the process of construction,” says Shawn Taylor, the project executive for lead contractor Shawmut Design and Construction. “They say they built the perfect computer,” he adds. “So they want the perfect store.”

To begin with, the 25,000-sq-ft store’s power demands are quite substantial compared to a typical retail location, so the team had to install an advanced HVAC system to lower the energy draw. Since the store has a glass roof, the mechanical system had to be hidden inside a three-story well. The glass roof, which covers three-quarters of the store and measures 54 ft tall, 75 ft wide and 30 ft deep, consisted of glass panels weighing a total of almost 3 tons.

Working on a tight site in the middle of Manhattan complicated things further. The team had to excavate 5,000 cu yds of bedrock to demolish and renovate an existing two-story structure on Broadway and West 67th Street, as well as add temporary bracing, “with no room to move,” all while coordinating vendors to bring in massive structures such as the spiral steel and glass staircase and the glass roof. To accommodate the in-and-out flow, the team scheduled trucks to the hour. And as is common with Apple, secrecy was a top priority and the design had to stay under wraps.

Fortunately, Shawmut has built about 150 Apple stores to date, including the ones on Fifth Avenue and on 14th Street, and remodeled the one in SoHo, so the team was able to take care of most of the obstacles in pre-construction planning. There were still surprises, however.

The financial downturn in 2008 “put pressures” on both Apple and Shawmut, Taylor says. Apple insisted on opening the store for Thanksgiving, in time for the 2009 retail season. So when the glass for the roof was late (it came two months after original scheduled delivery, according to Taylor), the crew had to respond fast.

“Never in my career have I done something like that,” Taylor says. “Usually you have a roof when you’re putting up drywall. We had to come up with new ideas to keep the site dry—during one of the wettest summers in New York.”

They team constructed a scaffold below to provide a working platform for the glass vendor, and then put up a rubber roof to keep the site dry. To install the roof, the team designed a suspension system that allowed the attachment without any tie off points. Despite the roof coming in late, the project was delivered eight days early.

Key Players

Developer/Owner: Apple, Inc.
General Contractor: Shawmut Design and Construction*
Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

*Submitted Project to New York Construction