Apple has restored a cultural, historic, and civic icon in the heart of the nation’s capital to serve as its newest retail store. With the recent launch of Apple Carnegie Library, the tech giant has opened its most extensively renovated retail space to date in Washington, D.C. Foster + Partners led the $30 million, two-year renovation of the historic Carnegie Library, a 1903 Beaux-Arts building in D.C.’s Mount Vernon Square. The new store aligns closely with Apple‘s rebranding of its retail spaces as “town squares” rather than stores, often located in historic and iconic sites and buildings, and intended to be used for more than just selling phones and computers. Apple Carnegie is the 13th such location to try to deliver on that concept.

The Carnegie Library was the District’s first public library and first desegregated public building and served as D.C.’s central library until 1970. It then sat as a party rental space until the D.C. Historical Society garnered a rent-free 99-year lease with the city in 1999. The society launched a City Museum of Washington, D.C., in the building in 2003, but it closed just one year later. Since then, the library building has been targeted for a range of never-built proposals, including as a music museum and an international spy museum.

The new design for the Apple Store introduced a grand staircase that cascades out onto the street, removed later additions to the building, and restored the facade. Foster + Partners worked with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other preservation experts to restore the facades and interiors, with an emphasis on reintroducing natural ventilation and bringing more daylight into the building. The retail space can be accessed by entrances on both sides of the building’s north-south access, allowing for a route through the building. The central core of the building, which Apple is calling the Forum, is a double-height space topped by a skylight which is dedicated to workshops on Apple’s products as well as to host performances and workshops.

Aerial photo of the Carnegie Library and adjacent plaza

The grand staircase leads to the D.C. History Center, a long-term tenant of the Carnegie Library. (Nigel Young/Foster + Partners)

Apple Carnegie Library also includes new programming for several acres of Mount Vernon Square, an urban park in the heart of downtown D.C. that the library is sited on. The plaza in front of the southern entrance will be dedicated to public concerts and events. Meanwhile, the grand staircase leads visitors to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., which will remain as the building’s long-term tenant. In the basement, the Carnegie Gallery is dedicated to educating the public about the history of the building through archival materials and photographs.

As Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, said in a statement, “Apple Carnegie Library will be a way for us to share our ideas and excitement about the products we create, while giving people a sense of community and encouraging and nurturing creativity.”

However, some in D.C. are questioning how the civic icon could be turned over to a private company like Apple. Other “town square” stores have been rejected, most notably in Stockholm and Melbourne, where Apple had proposed to build new stores in historic public plazas.

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