And you thought we were done hashing over the Georgetown Apple Store debate! Never, my friends. In the fall issue of the very charming Planning Commissioners Journal, Urban Land Institute senior fellow Edward T. McMahon uses the federalified Georgetown Apple Store as a demonstration of the neighborhood’s placemaking power: Even robbed of its now-iconic glass-cube design, the Wisconsin Avenue Apple outpost will be profitable because it’s in Georgetown, whose power comes from its quaint uniformity. Had the Old Georgetown Board allowed the original design to go forward, it would have been one more step down the road to Anytown, U.S.A.
It’s water under the bridge, now, but I think the idea that everything must be artificially kept held to an similar architectural standard in order to retain a neighborhood’s specialness is just false. One of the most striking buildings in Georgetown, for example, is the ZDF German Television station on 31st Street just south of M Street. Had Apple been allowed to build the transparent box it wanted originally—replacing a faux-old structure that wasn’t the biggest credit to the neighborhood—that would have made the neighborhood more diverse and interesting, rather than less. The rest of the strip isn’t going to start looking like a suburban outlet mall anytime soon. And the other end of that spectrum is Themepark Georgetown, where everything must conform to an antique standard of “context.” Ultimately, that just ends up looking sad, as if a neighborhood’s clinging to the past as its one competitive advantage.
So, Ed: Special places shouldn’t fear aberrations from the norm, just bad design. The facade that finally passed muster isn’t bad design, it’s just a missed opportunity.