Luminous ceilings were developed as part of the ground breaking 1957 Seagram building with architect Mies van der Rohe, lighting designer Richard Kelly and Lightolier as the fixture manufacturer. The advancement at the time required an innovative solution to large-scale illuminous panels, and Lightolier developed a way to heat acrylic to make dimensionally stable in large-scale units. However the ultimate size was still dependent on the maximum size of acrylic sheets. This system was ultimately dumbed down to the 2×4 troffer lights ubiquitous in office design through the end of the century.
Fast forward to Apple and the original stores, rolled out starting in 2001, utilized a unitized/systems approach to the ceiling making sure that each building system in the ceiling had a specific and designed ‘place’, nothing was left to chance or arbitrary. However, the lighting was confined to 4×4 panels of light, essentially the 50’s technology, incorporating the same fluorescent lighting system. The stores were so innovative and successful at the time no-one really questioned the ceiling, it seemed to fit the brand and was thoughtfully detailed in the space.
The new prototype store being rolled-out worldwide starting in 2015 utilizes an entirely illuminated ceiling where the “individual points of light” have been eliminated. Leave it to Apple to eliminate any none essential element. The technology has changed from a rigid acrylic to a high-tech polyester fabric that limits stretch and provides the scale desired for Apple’s minimalist aesthetic. In addition the emergence of LED technologies allows an even light across the entire illuminated plane. All the building systems including sprinklers, fire alarms, speakers and accent lighting have been incorporated into linear slots between the panels.
Apples retail chief Angela Ahrendts explains that the illuminated ceiling creates a “dynamic shopping experience”. She wants customers to be transfixed from the moment they walk into the space and be “wowed”. Apple’s goal is the make the store a dynamic, emotive, and an immersive experience similar to the experience customers have on their mobile devices.
Bottomline: While the illuminated ceiling is over sixty years old, Apple is utilizing current technologies to update the application in their stores. More importantly, the design reinforces the brands minimal aesthetic where the superfluous has been eliminated and only the essential elements remain. The store as extension of the brand.
Seagram Photo Credit Ezra Stoller/Esto