Singaporeans have speculated for months about the origins of the mysterious orb floating on the waterfront next to the city’s iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Was it a museum? A new-fangled theater? Some said the structure resembled the lair of a Hollywood supervillain—or a Death Star from another galaxy.

Construction crews finally pulled away scaffolding and canvases two weeks ago, confirming what many residents of the city-state already had guessed. The orb is an Apple Store, designed by Foster + Partners, the London-based architecture firm that designed Apple’s otherworldly new headquarters in Cupertino, California.

The new store—number 512 for Apple globally since its first in 2001 and the third in Singapore—opens Thursday. But Apple offered a sneak peek on its website yesterday, billing the orb as the company’s “most ambitious retail project” yet.

Apple Marina Bay Sands. Credit: Apple

The structure is remarkable in many ways. It’s the first Apple store to sit directly on water. Though connected to the waterfront by a wooden gangway and to a nearby shopping mall by an underground tunnel, the sphere appears to bob in the marina like, well, an apple.

Apple describes the orb as “a first-of-its-kind, all-glass dome structure that is fully self-supported, comprised of 114 pieces of glass with only 10 narrow vertical mullions for structural connection.” The glass is lined with custom baffles contoured to block daytime glare. The company says the dome was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

Credit: Apple

Images of the interior show sunlight pouring through an oculus at its apex. A ring of trees shades customers as they peer into Apple products displayed on the company’s trademark maple tables. The store includes an enormous “video wall,” which Apple says will serve as the backdrop for Today at Apple sessions featuring local artists, musicians, and creators. There’s also an underwater “Boardroom” on the lower level for training sessions with developers and entrepreneurs.

And at night the glass dome glows. Early images of the exterior suggest the structure is a departure from Apple’s signature minimalism. In many photos, the orb’s lower half is suffused in purple, green, and gold light, while one side projects a neon red image of the Apple logo that casts a shimmering reflection across the bay.

9to5Mac reports that the sphere’s nighttime glow is meant to evoke the design of traditional lanterns carried during Singapore’s mid-autumn festival.” It is certainly lighting up Instagram.

Credit: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Not everyone is a fan. “Beyond hideous,” groused one reader under this report in Dezeen.com. “How did this monstrosity ever get past the veto pen of the design directors at F&P or the team at Apple who get tasked with maintaining order and brand standards?” fumed another.  

In fact, the store is a coup for Foster + Partners, the firm Apple has retained to design all its freestanding stores since 2016. Hong Kong, where I live, is choc-a-bloc with F+P projects, including HSBC’s Hong Kong headquarters, the Hong Kong airport, and the ambitious new West Kowloon Cultural District.

But for the past decade, the most distinctive feature of Singapore’s downtown skyline has been the Marina Bay Sands complex designed by Boston-based Moshe Safdie. You may recall MBS from the money shots in Crazy Rich Asians, with its three curved skyscrapers topped by a cantilevered skypark resembling a giant surfboard. At the base of those towers, Sadfie designed two angular ‘crystal pavilions.’ The northern pavilion remains, and is occupied by Louis Vuitton. But the southern pavilion, which used to house a flashy nightclub, is the site of Apple’s new store. Now, like a cheeky photo bomber, Apple’s orb bobs in the marina and uses Safdie’s towers as dramatic backdrop.

More design news below.

Clay Chandler


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