Great design. Not Georgetown. Photo by highstrungloner on Flickr.

Georgetown’s ANC and the Old Georgetown Board, the special historic preservation review body for Georgetown, recently rejected Apple’s proposed design for a store on Wisconsin Avenue. The Current reported on it last week, and yesterday City Paper exposed the story to the Web, prompting more coverage in the tech press.

According to the original article, this is the third design Apple has proposed and the third neighborhood groups have rejected. This iteration featured “a glass first story with a solid stone upper facade punctuated by a large window shaped like Apple’s logo,” a design Steve Jobs “really loves.”

The tech press echoes the obvious framing, “neighborhood naysayers nix awesome Apple architecture.” But I’ll say it: I’m not so sure Apple should build a glass and stone structure with an Apple-shaped cutout. Georgetown (outside the waterfront) has a very distinct character that comes from its Federal style buildings. Plenty of other stores do just fine reusing the historic structures. As one of the City Paper commenters pointed out, Apple managed to keep a historic facade on their stores in SoHo (Manhattan); Palo Alto CA; Durham, NC; Regent Street, London and elsewhere.

This building sits amid a long row of similar Federal style buildings. It’s right at the end of Prospect Street, making it particularly visible:


Unless Google Maps is giving very wrong information, Apple’s building is the (non historic) one with the arch. Image from Google Street View. Go to interactive display.


A permanent Apple-shaped architectural feature and all-glass first floor facade may fit Steve Jobs’ megalomaniacal personality and Apple’s brash corporate image, but if the Old Georgetown Board says it doesn’t fit in Georgetown, they may be right. It’s not as incongruous as if Apple wanted an all-glass cube like the really cool design on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but it’s still a step away from the very successful way Georgetown’s buildings fit together as a coherent whole. Without seeing the actual design, it’s hard to pass final judgment, but the Old Georgetown Board and the ANC saw it. They didn’t like it. When it comes to architecture, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt over Apple.

If Apple wants glass and metal, how about Near Southeast or NoMa or Mount Vernon Triangle or one of the other neighborhoods with new modern buildings? People will shop at a Georgetown Apple store whether the building is glass, brick, or stone.

Apple, please just design a tasteful structure that echoes classic Federal motifs and fits in well amid its neighbors. Then you can sell some iPods and iPhones and make a lot of money, and Georgetown can keep its special character. It’s not that hard.

Tip: Ian.

Update: Georgetown Metropolitan mocks up what the proposal might have looked like, based on the press reports. If this was indeed what they suggested, it seems clearly inappropriate.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.