Apple Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Image: Finbarr Fallon

One of the latest additions to Apple’s beautiful array of retail destinations, Apple Marina Bay Sands is a glowing orb that sits beneath Singapore’s impressive skyline. Foster + Partners explains the design concept behind this landmark store.

With every new Apple store that opens around the world, there comes with it a fervent buzz of excitement not typically seen for retail settings.

Owing to a long-standing relationship with Foster + Partners, the tech giant has over the years become almost as renowned for the beautiful design of its stores as it has for the products on show inside, turning the locations into landmark destinations in and of themselves. Indeed, it’s rare to see an Apple store not alive with activity as visitors come to experience the eye-opening locations.

One of the latest additions to its impressive portfolio of retail destinations is Apple Marina Bay Sands. Opened to the public in 2020, the store stands as a distinctive presence on the already iconic Singapore Bay, a stone’s throw from the Moshe Safdie-designed Marina Bay Sands hotel.

A floating orb on the water, the 30-metre-diameter structure is a fully glazed dome with a black glass base, complementing its sister pavilions through its scale and materiality. Appearing as an island in the water, it is only tethered to the promenade by a small bridge.

Described as its “most ambitious retail project” to date, the design of the store is, as with all recent Apple stores, the result of a close collaboration between Apple’s design teams and the integrated engineering and design team at Foster + Partners.

David Summerfield, Head of Studio at Foster + Partners, said: “Apple Marina Bay Sands is all about the delicate interplay between transparency and shade. The structure dissolves the boundary between the inside and outside, creating a minimal platform that floats gently in the water, looking out over the bay and the spectacular Singapore skyline.”

Alongside the gentle ramp that leads from the bay’s boardwalk, the store can be accessed via The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, a nearby shopping complex; a beautifully curved stone entrance, flanked by Apple’s signature Avenue display on either side, a 45-metre-long underwater tunnel leads directly to a set of dramatic escalators that take visitors on a “kaleidoscopic journey” into the heart of the domed space.

The transition from the heart of the retail centre to the serene environment of the store gives customers a dramatic, exhilarating experience that culminates with spectacular views across the bay and towards the city.

Structurally, the dome acts as a hybrid steel and glass shell, where the grid of the steel sections supports the weight of the glass and shading, while the curved structural glass panels restrain the steel elements laterally and stiffen the overall form against lateral loads. Each of the 114 panels of glass is carefully selected to meet glazing indices as prescribed by BCA Green Mark, Singapore’s own sustainability rating system, while integrated solar shading devices keep the interior cool.

Each of the multifunctional concentric baffles reduce in size as they progress towards the top of the building, providing acoustic absorption for the store. More importantly, they diffuse and reflect the daylight to the baffle above, creating a magical effect and dematerialising the structure. At the top, a semi-opaque oculus provides a dramatic shaft of light that travels through the space, reminiscent of Rome’s famous Pantheon.

Stefan Behling, Senior Executive Partner at Foster + Partners, added: “The dome appears ephemeral. The effect is very calming, and the changing intensity and colour of the light is mesmerising. It is not only a celebration of Apple’s incredible products, but a celebration of light.”

Indeed, lighting design, also created by Foster + Partners, was an integral element of the project from the outside. During the day, the transparent dome reflects the colours of the surrounding water and sky, while the interior is flooded with natural light, while caustic reflections bounce off the water’s surface and onto the baffles. In the evening, subtle interior lighting transforms the appearance of the dome. As daylight fades the concealed baffle lighting slowly ramps up, emitting a warm, glare-free glow. 

The baffle lighting is carefully integrated within the dome’s architectural fabric, to ensure that the linear light source, or any of its reflections, is not visible from normal viewing angles. The intensity is set to a gradient, which gradually tapers off towards the lowest baffle.

At floor level, custom table-mounted lights provide local task illumination on the display tables, allowing the remainder of the floorplate to be lit by indirect baffle lighting. By keeping the ambient light levels lower, reflections in the glazing are reduced to help reveal the spectacular, panoramic views of the Singapore skyline through the 360° curved picture windows. 

Viewed from the exterior, the restrained, subtle interior illumination makes the dome’s interior space appear as an almost seamless continuation of the Marina Bay waterfront – the overall concept idea for the lighting was to emphasise the dome structure without losing the transparency at night.

This feeling of continuity is extended into the interior design of the store; the “Garden City” ideal of Singapore flows from the promenade into the interior spaces, with 10 trees placed along the perimeter, providing additional shading and soft shadows through the foliage. Set within leather-topped planters, this creates a comfortable seat for visitors to enjoy the view of the aby. The shading provided by the baffles is designed to deliver ample diffuse daylight to sustain the health of the trees.

Although ambitious in its scope, and in its design, Apple Marina Bay Sands acts as not only a celebration of the brand’s highly sought-after products, but as a celebration of light, and the delicate interplay between transparency and shade. Where many retail environments are designed with the idea of showcasing merchandise and encouraging sales, Apple Marina Bay Sands is remarkable in the way that it is designed as a space to linger, to relax, to enjoy the space and experience the beautiful views of the Marina Bay Sands.

www.fosterandpartners.com