Siri, Show Me Photos Of The New Apple Store Inside The Historic Carnegie Library
A scrum of unassuming media folks ambled into the shiny new Apple Carnegie Library on Thursday morning as dozens of Apple employees in green T-shirts applauded. It was a little surreal.
“I feel like I’m back in elementary school again,” said one reporter.
It’s a fairly apt description for the latest store from tech behemoth Apple. The project—a two-year renovation of the Carnegie Library building in Mount Vernon Square—is one part local-history hub, one part educational space and, naturally, one part retail.
The 63,000-square-foot property will open to the public Saturday at 10 a.m., no doubt to a crowd of visitors eager to see Apple’s attempt to infuse itself into the historic Beaux Arts space (it previously undertook something of a similar project with the Grand Central Station store that opened in 2011).
It would have been fitting for the visage of Apple CEO Tim Cook to suddenly beam in via FaceTime (we were, after all, rows of seated spectators before a giant screen). Instead, Apple retail and design senior director Chris Braithwaite walked out to give us an overview of the building.
For starters, the ground-floor room we were seated in—known as “The Forum”—will host “Today at Apple” events, which are daily workshops aimed at local creatives. The courtyard-like space will also be used for “teacher labs” and sessions that incorporate the resources of Apple’s fellow Carnegie Library tenant, the Historical Society of Washington D.C.’s new DC History Center.
“We have a huge amount of respect for the history and the original intention of this building,” Braithwaite said. “We’ve done many historical renovations around the world, but this is our most ambitious and extensive to date.”
The District’s quasi-private convention and sports entity, Events DC, manages the building (along with the D.C. Convention Center just down the street, and several other properties). Initially the organization planned to bring in the International Spy Museum, but that plan ultimately fell through. (In a twist of fate, the Spy Museum is also opening this weekend in its new L’Enfant Plaza location).
“For many reasons, it just didn’t work out. So we had talked to other interested parties, and we went through a competition process. Apple rose to the top,” says Greg O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC. He notes that it will be an attraction for both locals and tourists. “We have a million people who come to the Convention Center every year, and so not only will the residents get to enjoy it, but now it’s a great amenity for our visitors.”
Apple, which also has a traditional store in Georgetown, funded the extensive renovations to the Carnegie Library building.
Led by architecture firm Foster + Partners, the work focused on restoring the structure to its original 1903 grandeur. Room subdivisions installed in the 1970s in the “Genius Grove” behind the central forum were removed. The “East Reading Room,” Apple’s primary retail space in the building, is once again a light-filled, library-like room, rather than the darkened theater it had housed more recently. And minute structural details, like newly installed bronze handrails on the pair of marble staircases that border the main entrance, are efforts to adhere to modern building regulations without detracting from the building’s historical nature.
“I love the synergy between old and new, the juxtaposition of the historic fabric and contemporary design,” says Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, in a press release. “In its ‘new’ phase of life, Apple Carnegie Library will be a way for us to share our ideas and excitement about the products we create, while giving people a sense of community and encouraging and nurturing creativity.”
Downstairs, a gallery of historic D.C. images curated by the Historical Society now occupies what was once known as the bicycle room (quite literally, a space where visitors parked their bikes before moving upstairs to the library). One of the building’s most charmed features is its Guastavino-vaulted, terracotta ceilings on the basement level. There, guests are invited not only to take a gander at historic photos of the building’s history, but to also employ an art app called Smartify. By scanning an image with the app, users can immediately pull up more information about the piece on their smartphone—technology that Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Executive Director John Suau says can eventually be employed throughout the building.
“I thought that we were something that Apple was going to have to contend with,” Suau says. “But as the project progressed, I understood that Steve Jobs had articulated that Apple is about where technology and the humanities intersect. So when I started to hear that language and learn about them creating an experiential retail opportunity—where you’re not necessarily coming here to transact but you’re coming here to learn or engage—it made a lot more sense.”
The Historical Society celebrates its 125th anniversary on May 30. For several decades, it was housed in the Heurich House Museum in Dupont Circle, but it has called the Carnegie Library home since 2001 (during the renovations it decamped to the Newseum).
Suau notes that the “Apple effect” will likely bring in audiences that might not otherwise stop by the DC History Center: While they’re waiting for an appointment at the Genius Bar, they might decide to wander upstairs and check out their offerings.
While the first floor is designated Apple space, the second is occupied by the DC History Center, including a new research library set to open to the public by appointment in July. Through a stark-white corridor overlooking “The Forum,” one enters the “Hall of History,” featuring a timeline of D.C. history and an early Metro hat among its artifacts. Across from the library sits the “West Gallery,” currently home to an impressive room of large-scale panoramic photos, including one of Marvin Gaye’s ninth-grade class from then-segregated Randall Junior High School circa 1954.
And as no gallery space is without a gift shop these days, there’s one of those too, sporting D.C.-centric books and paraphernalia, as well as products curated by Shop Made In DC.
Out front, an engraved panel above the building entrance reads, “Dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge.” Several feet below, two marble panels framing the double doors boast gold Apple logos.
The Apple store and DC History Center open to the public on Saturday, May 11 at 10 a.m. Apple is also putting on a six-week StoryMakers Festival—which will feature classes, events, a block party, and other programming—from May 18-June 29.