Apple’s product design may win the company accolades, but the same cannot be said of its recent forays into architecture. Stockholm is the latest city after Melbourne to push back on the tech behemoth’s plans for a new store. What Apple is calling its “town square” concept, designed by Foster + Partners, is being decried as an attempt to privatize the city’s oldest and arguably most important public space, Kungsträdgården, or the King’s Garden. Stockholm’s new city government, elected into office this month, has announced that the Apple store project is welcome elsewhere, but that it would block the company’s attempt to set up shop in the park.
Currently, Kungsträdgården establishes a direct visual link to the Royal Palace and serves as the site of the city’s major celebrations, protests, and public debates. “It is the thread that pulls together the historical power of the monarchy with the commercial blocks of Hamngatan and the working-class districts of Södermalm. This is very important for democracy because it has to do with power, symbolically and spatially,” Johanna Jarméus of Nyréns Arkitektkontor, a Swedish architecture firm, told The Guardian. The design by Foster + Partners dominates the public square, making it appear to be the main structure defining the space, with the garden serving the building. Or, as the editor of Arkitektur, a major Swedish architecture magazine, put it more bluntly, “It’s like a parasite.”
The Apple store design requires the company to annex about 4,000 square feet of public park space in addition to the plot it has already purchased. The company has made a similar proposal to use public land for its Federation Square store in Melbourne. The King’s Garden plot is offered to developers on the condition that they offer restaurants and cafes for the park, and is currently home to a TGI Fridays. The Apple design would also require rezoning the site for retail.
For Apple, the dominance of public space is itself the point. “We call them town squares because they’re gathering places where everyone is welcome,” as Apple’s vice president of retail said last year at one of the company’s staged launches. It appears that the residents of Stockholm and the 1,800 public comments, most negative, against the plan, disagree.
Stockholm’s city government may have declared its opposition to the Apple “town square” store, but there’s a hitch—the company still owns the plot of land. Still, some are envisioning a public park where there is no building at all, requiring a much bigger, longer battle to define what the park’s future will be.