On 22nd June 2021, Apple debuted its newest retail store in downtown Los Angeles at the historic Tower Theatre. It represents Apple’s most avant-garde restoration project succoured along with Foster+Partners. It was an astounding proposal for an abandoned movie theatre from the 1920s in downtown Atlanta. The original building was designed and constructed by S Charles Lee, an American architect, in 1927 in the baroque revival style. Tower theatre was planned at the junction between Eighth Street and Broadway, and it was the first theatre in Los Angeles that was equipped for screening motion pictures with sound. Soon after, in 1988, it was shut down. 

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Apple Tower Theatre, Los Angeles. ©www.apple.com

Design and philosophy behind the structure

“At every corner, Los Angeles bursts with creativity across arts, music and entertainment, and we are thrilled to build on our relationship with this special city. Apple Tower Theatre honors the rich history and legacy of this entertainment capital.”

   Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Retail+People 

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The expansive main view area on the ground floor of the theatre.  ©www.apple.com

Originally a sound-equipped film viewing theatre, it was constructed and opened in 1927 by S. Charles Lee. It instantly became the capital of upheaval and revolution. The space had been empty and unused since its closure in 1988. Today, through this historic theatre, Apple’s wide range of products, each of which has altered and innovated different forms of arts like filmmaking, photography, and music composition, continues that tradition of technical innovation as the ideal place to discover a new line of products and advancing futuristic developments. The design concept aimed to gain new insights by giving the abandoned masterpiece a new purpose with a bigger vision and a vital perspective by restoring its erstwhile magnificence. 

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The enormous central dome at the Apple Tower Theatre portrays a Fresco painting that depicts a pleasant sunny day in California.© www.apple.com

The opening of Apple Tower Theatre was an important aspect of downtown LA’s broader urban regeneration endeavor, which boosted not only the civic trade but also, the social and communal life in the area. The design replenishes the peculiar clock tower, and the exterior terracotta façade reinforces the celebrated interiors and ameliorates the canopies as well as the rest of Broadway Street. The new design also tries to polish the entry and the accessibility to ensure the building thrives and satisfies the city and its people for many generations to follow.  

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The grand entrance to the Apple Tower theatre gives an overall monumental essence to the structure.© www.dezeen.com

After passing through common features of Broadway Street, one enters the monumental lobby inspired by Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera House, which features a grand arched stairway dressed with bronze handrails, escorted by enormous marble Corinthian columns. This grand staircase leads one to the upper levels. Meanwhile, the lobby opens up revealing the monumental volume of the principal theatre hall at ground level, which has been metamorphosed into a glorious display and viewing area. The ancient plaster outlining the surfaces of walls and roofs dates back to the 1920s when it was first put to application. It was honored posthumously and enhanced over time. The gigantic central dome was reimagined in a way that intensified the actual concept of the dome when it was first constructed. It was augmented with a fresco that reflected the tranquil golden sunshine of the southern Californian day, enumerating energy and vibrancy to the space. 

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The original depictions of clouds and cherubs on the overhead dome had been painted over in a previous renovation. With and atmospheric-looking sky, it now brightens and binds the entire space together. © www.apple.com

The new assembly, named Forum, which hearkens back to the era of the renaissance of talkies and cinema, reintroduces the screen underneath the proscenium of the theatre. Visitors can indeed access the balcony level distinct series of stairways and elevators which connects them to the best seats, which confront the enormous Forum beneath. Visitors can unwind and explore the mezzanine level while awaiting their Genius appointments. Theatre-style seats are integrated with electrical and connection ports that provide hospitality to the visitors. The Genius level is oriented on top of the balcony, directly beneath the projectionist windows, and offers a comprehensive view of the theatre in all of its restored grandeur.    

Materials and construction methodology

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The material palette of the space was not changed, keeping in mind the actual grandeur it provided to the entire space. © www.dezeen.com
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The material palette of the space was not changed, keeping in mind the actual grandeur it provided to the entire space. © www.dezeen.com

Apple worked with prominent preservationists, restoration artists, and the City of Los Angeles to meticulously conserve and restore the theatre’s grandeur and splendor, using the same level of care as prior restoration projects Every feature, and every element was scrupulously refurbished and restored, and the structure was once again completed and architecturally upgraded for better utilization. To help the structure fit into its surroundings and satisfy the modern needs of people, many additions and inclusions were supplemented, yet keeping in mind the history and the importance of the original structure. Digitized elements like screens, data ports, and user-responsive surfaces were added to promote visitor experience and engagement with space. Elements such as elevators are added to the interiors to make the structure more porous for all age groups and different types of visitors. 

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Spaces have been created that promote visitor interaction both with space and other users.  © www.dezeen.com

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The huge stained glass was restored and featured an extraordinary fleur-de-lis (lily flower) pattern with a coiled celluloid filmstrip and the purple stripe found only in ancient times when it was available. This small element did not only help in restoring the history of the structure but also helped in bringing back the essence it held and how it has evolved in today’s world. All over, the building consisted of elements constructed in concrete and wood, which were later polished with a generous layer of plaster. The huge chandeliers in the interiors are constructed of glass and steel. The materials throughout the renovations were kept constant to preserve the baroque revival style of architecture that each element depicted.

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The huge stained-glass window and the chandelier from the interiors.© www.apple.com © Los Angeles Times/ Robert Goulrey
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The huge stained-glass window and the chandelier from the interiors.© www.apple.com © Los Angeles Times/ Robert Goulrey
Smallest details and elements were restored in order to bring back the identity of the structure that was lost over the decades.© www.apple.com

References

Press Release (June 2021), Apple Tower Theatre opens Thursday in downtown Los Angeles: Historic theatre has premiered new technology since 1927, Available at: https://nr.apple.com/dm4W6p2g4c [Accessed: 5th July 2021] 

India Block (June 2021), Apple opens store by Foster+Partners in Los Angeles’ historic Tower Theatre, Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/06/23/apple-tower-theatre-los-angeles-foster-partners/ [Accessed: 5th July 2021] 

Roger Vincent (August 2018), At the historic downtown L.A. Tower Theatre, Apple plans a store and event space unlike any other, Available at: https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-apple-downtown-20180802-story.html [Accessed: 5th July 2021] 

Gregory Han (June 2021), Apple Theatre Opens in Downtown Los Angeles, An Architectural 2.0 Upgrade, Available at: https://design-milk.com/apple-tower-theatre-opens-in-downtown-los-angeles/ [Accessed: 5th July 2021] 

Author

Janvi is a fourth year architecture student from BSSA, NMIMS. Research and details is what she believes in apart from travelling and capturing the ‘raw’. She is fond of discovering the undiscovered, be it in the form of an artwork or an old Irani cafe blocked between buildings from vintage.

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