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Tabletops: Blurring the boundary

Michael Steeber
Michael Steeber
Portland's Pioneer Place Predicament
I’ve been waiting to hear an update on the uncertain future of Apple Pioneer Place in Portland for months. This past week, The Oregonian finally shared a preview:
The imposing steel fence surrounding the Pioneer Place Apple Store in downtown Portland may soon be replaced by a new transparent security enclosure made of polycarbonate, according to plans Apple discussed with a community group.
Concept rendering
Concept rendering
If this is your first time hearing about the notorious “prison fence” surrounding the store, let me get you up to speed:
  • 5/31/2014: Apple Pioneer Place opens in its new location.
  • 3/24/2019: The store closes for extensive renovation.
  • 5/31/2019: Apple debuts a Forum, video wall, and Avenues inside.
  • 3/14/2020: All stores close at the start of the pandemic.
  • 5/27/2020: Apple Pioneer Place reopens.
  • 5/29/2020: Looting and vandalism destroy the store’s glass walls.
  • 1/22/2021: The George Floyd mural wall is removed.
  • 2/22/2021: The store reopens for the first time since 2020.
  • 2/2021 – Present: A large steel fence surrounds the store. Customers are guided through a small entrance by signage around the building. Restoration work on the structure continues.
As of today, the store has been in an upset state for 852 of the 2,900 days since it was built. That’s just under 30% of the store’s lifetime. It’s sad to see such a beautiful building rendered functionally unusable by its architecture and sadder yet to imagine the teams inside who must feel like they’re working from a cage.
via Drake Wood
via Drake Wood
Apple’s solution is to replace the steel fence with a polycarbonate wall.
“…the retailer mentioned that replacement polycarbonate panels are readily available from a local source — unlike the giant panes of glass used for the store’s existing facade.”
Apple is planning ahead and designing a wall that can remain up indefinitely. I’m not qualified to discuss the social and political climate in Portland, so let’s break down the problem pragmatically:
  • Apple maintains a very expensive property in Downtown Portland.
  • The property has been vandalized, and Apple has determined that there is significant risk of further damage.
  • Replacement glass panels and expensive, difficult to manufacture, and slow to arrive.
  • Customers dislike the “prison fence.”
What are the options?
  1. Remove the fence and return the store to normal. Risk costly repairs, safety concerns, and the inevitable news cycle that follows every Apple Store incident.
  2. Leave Downtown Portland entirely. Open a new store in a nearby suburban mall.
  3. Leave up the fence. Stomach the poor optics as the cost of doing business.
  4. Double down on downtown. Design a friendly fence. Remove it “when the time is right.”
Given the situation, designing a friendly fence is certainly one of the better choices. I admire Apple’s commitment to staying in downtown. Still, this doesn’t feel sustainable to me. What if one year turns into five or ten? At what point would starting over with a more resilient store design have been worth it?
The bottom line: These are tough decisions with no clear victories. I wonder if this situation will factor in to future store designs.
Skywalker Sound
On a lighter note, if you’re reading this on Monday morning, it’s not too late to sign up for tonight’s big Today at Apple session with sound designer Leff Lefferts and Apple Music’s Eddie Francis:
Featured image
Apple Marina Bay Sands
Photo via Chen Munn on Instagram.
If you’d like to share photos or suggestions for future issues of this newsletter, my inbox and DMs are always open.
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Michael Steeber
Michael Steeber @michaelsteeber

Little stories about Apple's largest product.

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