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Design flaw in Apple flagship store

[Update: Apple has explained they do have a heated roof. Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune reports:

“The roof has a warming system that’s built into it,” Apple spokesman Nick Leahy said. “It needed some fine-tuning and it got re-programmed today. It’s hopefully a temporary problem.”

So I take back that this is a design flaw. This is just a minor tweak that Apple is adjusting. For the archive, the original blog post is below]

Apple Store Chicago: roof with icicles

Wow! Fancy! 
Apple’s newest flagship store in Chicago opened with much critical acclaim for its design. Instead of being just a commercial space, Apple is using a “Town Square” store approach. Each store, like this flagship, will now be a community hub. How delightful! Right? Even the materials are amazing. The store’s walls are wraparound glass with an an ultra-thin carbon fiber roof in the recognizable shape of a Macbook cover.

Although the fancy roof has a problem. The edges of the roof slope down without any gutters to catch the melting snow. Pedestrians under the roof will get attacked by sliding snow.

Since this store is a community hub, people are supposed to gather around the store and delight in their Apple products. But now they’ll get hit by falling icicles!

Apple had to rope off their outside community area, so nobody will get killed by the fancy sloping roof of their Town Square store. Sorry! This area of the town is off limits–too dangerous!

Caution: Watching for Falling Snow and Ice

Maybe next time Apple will consider the actual community where their stores are built. Y’know, basic things like in Chicago, the weather gets cold. It snows. The snow falls off the roof. Don’t design a sloping roof where the snow can’t be caught or guttered off somewhere. (technically, Apple itself didn’t engineer the roof. It was an engineering company. 9to5mac user “Kiwi” explains.)

This has been blogged by Daring Fireball. Which then touched off a bunch of fun tweets:

Perhaps that's a reference to Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water?

You sure it’s not the 6 plus roof?

Maybe they are asking the $29 from customers for battery replacement just to replace this roof.

And one guy called me a quack
That writer is a quack just looking to take a jab at Apple.

To which I replied:
Quack quack. That's me.

Yeah, I’m taking a jab at Apple. I think that’s allowed. But really, this is just a fun observation I had during my morning commute. I work in the Tribune Tower next door to this Apple store. I enjoy their outdoor seating area. Granted, in the one-degree weather today, I wasn’t sitting on the stairs. But when I see the stairs were roped off, that was very curious, so this was of personal interest to me. That’s reason one for me blogging about this. Personal interest–which by the way, I photographed the store with my iPhone (an iPhone 5S, that does not have iOS11 installed).

Reason two: Apple brags about the design and functionality of their ultra-thin carbon roof, which now a bit busted, because it forces Apple to rope off areas of their plaza. Many people rightfully pointed out that this happens all over Chicago in the winter. Many downtown buildings put up signs saying “Watch for falling snow and ice.” But not that many rope off large sections of the building. Most buildings put signs. Some may rope off a small area, but not as large as the area Apple was blocking. And it wasn’t even Apple roping off the area, it’s Zeller Realty Group that found the area unsafe. I’m assuming Apple didn’t have the control over these signs and ropes.

Reason three: Well, this one is stated in the blog post. Apple wants this flagship store to be a community area, and now the area is roped off. Just ironic. Yes, nobody is using the space in one-degree weather. But you have to admire the irony that the Apple design is prohibiting their expressed goal with the building.

And some fun comments from Facebook posts:
Well, only a fool would expect the building to last longer than a year. Everyone knows you need to upgrade in a year.

Good looking but can’t handle thermal conditions, just like a real MacBook Air.

Reddit user lovethewebs accurately expressed the irony of the open space being closed.
Yeah, however the whole point of the store being small is the area around it being an open plaza to the public. So then having to close it off cause their roof isn’t heated is a pretty big oversight to the general concept. And now that their support walls are cracking on one side it’s slightly concerning.

56 Responses to Design flaw in Apple flagship store

  1. Damian Raszewski December 28, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

    Signs to watch for falling snow and ice are a common fixture in Chicago, as well as cordoned off areas. It’s not just the Apple store that has a problem with this, it’s a regular hazard in the area. In fact, given it’s low height, the Apple Store is probably less dangerous than most buildings. As long as it’s not caving in because of the snow and ice, I think they designed it just fine. No one wants to sit around the outdoor common area when it’s covered in snow and ice anyway.

    • Matt Maldre December 28, 2017 at 11:01 pm #

      Good points. We do see these signs all over. However, we don’t really see large areas blocked off.

      And very good point about the height. The height of this roof is much much lower than the other buildings downtown.

    • simon December 29, 2017 at 8:46 am #

      I would then point out to you that Apple (well, this Apple Store anyway) is more diligent than the rest of the city in protecting the public around their store. The building is new, nobody can predict exactly what is the safe zone around it in this weather.

    • Matt Maldre December 30, 2017 at 12:37 am #

      Thank you Simon! I like that viewpoint. Safety comes first. Apple and the property owners (Zeller Realty Group) are diligent in being safe. I like that. 🙂

    • Patrick December 30, 2017 at 5:22 am #

      However, any properly considered design by an engineer or architect should take this into account during design. They are required to consider all safety aspects, and standard design issues such as drainage. Unless of course the specification from the client asks for something specifically, such as a roof without the encumbrance of ugly gutters. The engineer or architect would still be required to outline the concerns, but the client would have final say.

    • noah December 30, 2017 at 11:26 am #

      you’re really working hard to push your article, some people will just disagree, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. These are just opinions.

    • Matt Maldre December 31, 2017 at 9:47 am #

      Hello Noah, it make look like I’m working hard to push my article, since it has gotten all this media coverage. But all I did was mention it on my personal social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin). I have personally have not initiated any contact with the media. The article has gone somewhat viral, and the media is just noticing what each other are doing.

  2. Sam December 28, 2017 at 5:08 pm #

    Personally, I think it’s a great idea! The biggest problem with the Apple Store in my town is that it’s always packed to the gills with other customers. This is a beautiful and clever way to make most of them go away! Maybe I can get a spot at the Genius bar, finally.

  3. Chris in Kona December 28, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    Funny and sad… could have been titled “Rich California company has no clue what weather is”. Also, I found some typos:
    “Will get by sliding snow” and “design a slopping roof”.

    • Matt Maldre December 28, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

      Thank you so much, Chris! I fixed the typos now, thanks to your help.

  4. Jony December 28, 2017 at 5:24 pm #

    its not a flaw, its a feature.

  5. krame December 28, 2017 at 5:58 pm #

    Encapsulates Apple’s overarching critical dogma of visual form over function at all costs.

  6. Christopher L. Jorgensen December 28, 2017 at 7:18 pm #


  7. Carl Hammel December 28, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

    Schadenfreude. “Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” I am glad there is not an English word for this; one has to go to the German instead. It’s not a very becoming trait, but boy do folks love to revel in the mistakes of others.

    • Matt Maldre December 28, 2017 at 11:03 pm #

      Point very well taken. I do have a sassy negative tone to this blog post. I try to keep things upbeat in my older blog posts. I need to analyze what I have going on in my life now to see what is giving me this sassy point of view.

    • Stephen john Batten December 29, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

      Carl Hammel > Soy Boi

    • Jean SmilingCoyote December 29, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

      Not to worry about having to use a German word. English is a Germanic language and there are many cognates; e.g. “braun” and “brown” – same meaning, same pronunciation. English is also famous for adopting words from other languages very freely. My German response to your use of Schadenfreude is “bitte.”

    • MetlMann December 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

      Welsh Terrier, Lakeland or Airedale?

  8. Gordon December 28, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

    Buildings don’t get built willy nilly. This would have gone through a process at city hall building department, a design review would have been done. They would have been asked what was going to happen, likely they knew that the snow would slide off and closing areas around the roof was the plan all along.
    Gutters are never designed to catch or direct snow.

    • Matt Maldre December 28, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

      Oh! I didn’t know that about gutters and snow. But I imagine when the snow melts on a roof, that the gutters would catch the majority of the water and funnel it away. We get icicles when there is a leak in the gutter. But with no gutters, we get icicles all over the perimeter of the roof. Correct?

    • Jean SmilingCoyote December 29, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

      This brings in the discussion of warm roof vs. cold roof. I’m not settling this here. What was Apple’s design intent? Also, mightn’t a gutter with no leak develop an icicle when it’s overburdened with snow which eventually melts – during the day, and freezes at night? Just asking, as it’s a complex challenge.

    • KBCraig December 29, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

      With gutters, you get frozen gutters through which no water flows, and you’re back to square one… with the added chance of a large metal-and-ice rectangular beam crashing down.

    • Chaos215bar2 December 29, 2017 at 10:09 am #

      Yeah. It’s fun to point fingers, but the truth is that literally hundreds of people will have been involved with designing and approving this building. Sometimes new ideas don’t quite work out as intended. Surely lessons have been learned all around, and hopefully the problem will be addressed in the future.

      For what it’s worth, this is far from the first building I’ve seen with cordoned off areas due to falling ice and snow.

  9. MetlMann December 28, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

    Shouldn’t the local building codes have addressed this? Shouldn’t the city inspection/approval process raised red flags?

  10. Norton December 28, 2017 at 10:01 pm #

    Ut-oh… or Uh-oh…?

    • Matt Maldre December 28, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

      I think either are acceptable, right?

    • Guest December 30, 2017 at 8:27 pm #

      If you’re just writing click-bait? Yes, because the article is a throw-away anyways.

      If you want to be a big boy writer? Then no, “ut-oh” is incorrect.

    • Matt Maldre December 31, 2017 at 9:54 am #

      Greetings guest, thank you for chiming in with your opinion on the “ut-oh” vs “uh-oh” debate. It would be fun to hear an etymologist’s opinion on this debate.

      As far as click-bait. My blog is where I share fun observations. This was merely part of my commute that I found entertaining one day. And I love sharing entertaining observations. You are entitled to think this is click-bait. But from the author’s perspective, I was not writing this article with this intent.

    • Past Trib Systems Jockey December 31, 2017 at 10:05 am #

      Sir, you are no journalist….

    • Matt Maldre January 1, 2018 at 11:37 pm #

      You are correct. I am a blogger.

  11. Guest December 28, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

    Dear Matt,
    I encourage you to go back to the store and update the article. There’s a crack on the glass near the river. Major safety issue! I got out the moment I saw it and told an employee that their wall is cracking. Major oversight

    • MetlMann December 29, 2017 at 1:13 am #

      It’s good that you reported it. Doubt there is any danger as the glass is laminated in multiple layers. It won’t fail like ordinary window glass. Building codes would not allow it.

    • Jean SmilingCoyote December 29, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

      Still it shouldn’t crack.

    • MetlMann January 7, 2018 at 1:08 am #

      No building is perfect, even when it is brand new. It’s easy to say things “shouldn’t” happen. It’s harder to actually build things and learn from act of building them.

  12. Zathras December 29, 2017 at 12:14 am #

    Yeah, because no building with gutters has icicles.

  13. Kel December 29, 2017 at 12:32 am #

    “Yeah, I’m taking a jab at Apple. I think that’s allowed. But really, this is just a fun observation I had during my morning commute.”

    Ah, the old “yeah, I’m being a d*ck but hey – it’s a joke!”-response. Seriously; I lived in Chicago for nearly a decade and you see it EVERYWHERE, on nearly EVERY corporate plaza.

    For 2018, don’t be a d*ck. Find a topic, not a target.

  14. Joseph Lstiburek December 29, 2017 at 7:22 am #

    Ice daming is well understood. This is an easy fix. Heat the edge of the roof to prevent the icicles from forming. This approach is done often in high snow load ice dam areas. There are folks in Chicagoland who do this all the time. The original design could have prevented this from occurring by venting the upper roof skin. The vent inlets could have been hidden at the perimeter with a false molded soffit leaving a shadow line “reveal”. The vent outlet could have been fan powered and vented downwards via a duct so that the roof line was not affected. The “over venting” could have been “invisible”. I think the store design is beautiful. The building science of the roof is a little flawed but not catastrophically.

  15. Wicca December 29, 2017 at 7:58 am #

    At the very least you could have given the idea for this article to someone who is actually good at writing in this style..Someone who is funny. You come off as a tedious pussy, at best.

  16. Tasha December 29, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    Meh, Apple has done plenty as a company to deserve some snark for shoddy design. “You see it everywhere!” isn’t an excuse for a company that touts how advanced their design is. Great post.

  17. Dr Kilovolt December 29, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    As someone who watched them build it, from my office window, there is a gutter system, located several feet from the edge. After all, even in CA, they have to deal with rain, however rare. It is, however, likely inadequate for snow and ice.

    • Matt Maldre December 30, 2017 at 12:38 am #

      Oooo! Secret hidden gutter system. Very cool.

  18. Alexphil December 29, 2017 at 11:05 am #

    Same thing happened when they built Liberty Place in Philly. After a pedestrian was killed by falling ice, they installed warming elements to melt the ice on the sides of the roof. Fixed the problem.

  19. Jean SmilingCoyote December 29, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    I heard about the snow problem on the radio, then read several online articles, before emailing Blair Kamin about this building. Some commenters mentioned gutters to catch the snow. I think gutters are just to catch rain. Some gutters have had icicles develop on them. Designing roofs to deal with snow so that they don’t have dangerous snow or ice falling on people below near the edge has been a challenge for centuries; I have not made a thorough survey of this – as qualified architects and government officials signing off on building plans should be thoroughly familiar with, along with every other local environmental challenge. One part of this discussion has been warm roof vs. cold roof. Many modern buildings, including this one, have so many flaws in the way they interface with their environments, that the only proper location for them is inside a sound stage. Government officials in the building permits department should be doing a much better job sorting out good plans from plans that won’t work with these environmental challenges.

  20. G Groff December 29, 2017 at 5:38 pm #

    Since Apple sealed up the iPhone by getting rid of ports that allow ingress of fluids, is it any surprise that they would seal off access to their building?

  21. Dusty December 29, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

    Sloping roof, no gutters? Sounds like a year-round problem – snow OR rain, and a fat target for “poking fun at”. It’s a case of form over function, rather than function guiding form. Sad.
    It may have been built by an engineering/construction firm but who had final say over the design? Those geniuses at Apple.
    Perhaps they could use the same software they used on old iPhones to slow down the rate of fall of the ice…?

  22. Frank Lord Wright December 30, 2017 at 5:55 am #

    For once people, hold the snark and contribute something. What would an Apple-Foster snow melt system look like and how would it work?

  23. Jerry Roma December 30, 2017 at 6:35 am #

    Wow, Drudge picked up your original story. Too bad he didn’t credit you instead of the other two blogs which copied your photos and info. Great story on your part.

    • Matt Maldre December 31, 2017 at 9:51 am #

      Jerry, Thank you for pointing that Drudge picked up this story. I’m fine with not getting the credit. As I’ve said this was just a simple fun observation I made on my commute. I didn’t really invest much time into this blog post. I’ll readily admit it wasn’t great writing on my part–hence all the negative comments I have received. I appreciate that you enjoyed my story. Normally with my art and blog posts, I try to keep things positive, so I’m happy you were able to find some value in my little story.

  24. ed deee December 30, 2017 at 8:15 am #

    “there’s no heat getting to it,” Chwedyk said. “There was no precedent or prototype for this kind of building,” This consultant is an idiot…..since when can we expect heat to get to the top of the roof???????……There is no precedent for a roof overhang?????? Total idiot.

  25. Jean SmilingCoyote December 30, 2017 at 9:24 am #

    Good morning! I heard on Fox News last night that some snow-melt system had conked out and should be fixed today. First I knew there was a snow-melt system. I would have thought the “interconnectedness of things” would have immediately sent a message to the building manager and the repair company, made the appointment, and it would have been fixed before creating a problem for pedestrians. After all, this is an Apple building. Except for the fact that Apple wanted the roof to look like the lid of a Mac, flat roofs – even with gently sloping edges like this one – aren’t used in traditional buildings in snowbelt regions, like the Alps or Bavaria. These buildings have steeply pitched gable roofs, with the gables above the doors so snow may slide off harmlessly at the sides. Swiss chalets use the “cold roof” design, with a lower pitch, to leave the snow up there. The 2nd-floor overhang is also protective. Flat roofs in snowbelt or rainy regions are non-traditional, because of the dangerous weight of rain or snow. Designs ignoring these pre-industrial traditions must rely on modern technology, including engineering simulations, to succeed. Claiming nothing can be done about the ice build-up at -20 F. seems a roundabout way of admitting this is an inappropriate design for this location. Apple could have used a pitched roof keeping the laptop emulation, by making it look like a Mac which was half-open and turned upside-down. This still would require a sensible way to deal with snow/ice sliding off next to steps.

  26. j s January 2, 2018 at 11:37 pm #

    The terror of 6 icicles! Chicago is a little tougher than that, I thought.

  27. pmshah January 5, 2018 at 7:37 pm #

    I remember opening of the Standard Oil building on the Lakefront back in the 70s. The councourse was tiled with granite. First snow of the season with Chicago winds made the whole concourse wet and extremely slippery. After a number of people slipped and fell the management immediately – like within a couple of hours – arranged to have the entire area covered with non slip carpets.

  28. Matt Maldre March 8, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    Today was the first day I stepped foot in the Apple store since writing this blog post. It was a bit odd. I felt like the employees would have my photo posted in the back, and I would be kicked out the moment one them saw me.

    Instead, I went over the iPads to try the drawing stylus. It was pretty nice. Made me want to get one. But my first step is just to draw on regular paper on a regular basis. Then I can upgrade to a new iPad.


  1. A positive approach to negative criticism - Spudart - January 4, 2018

    […] example The past week has been rather interesting for my blog. I wrote a quick blog post about ice falling off the Apple Store roof in Chicago. This post got a bunch of media attention, bringing many criticisms of my observations. I’ve […]

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