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Apple's Osaka retail store to sport suspended spiral staircase

Continuing to raise its profile overseas, Apple Computer is proceeding with plans to open its second store in Japan in Osaka during the fall of 2004. The flagship store will be large enough to sport a number of architectural advancements that won't be found in any of the company's U.S. locations, sources tell AppleInsider.

The architecture firm assigned to develop the Osaka store, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), is the same firm responsible for all of Apple's retail stores. BCJ's portfolio includes the Bill Gates residential compound and the new headquarters of Pixar Animation Studios, which Apple's Steve Jobs also heads.

According to sources, BCJ's Peter Bohlin is a good friend of Jobs. Though it is unclear how the two originally met, insiders speculate that they may have crossed paths through Bill Gates back when Jobs was still running NeXT. At the time, NeXT placed an office in Pittsburgh, where BCJ was also operating, aimed at recruiting a handful of students from Carnegie Mellon University, including Apple's now Chief of Software Technology, Avie Tevanian.

In any event, the relationship between Bohlin and Jobs soon began to flourish. Over the years, BCJ gained the trust of Jobs and as a result Apple has used the architecture firm almost exclusively over the last 7 years.

While BCJ's three partners are officially based out of several Pennsylvania locations, the firm has opened offices in Berkeley, California and Seattle, Washington. The team in Berkeley, which is apparently responsible for the day to day dealings with Apple, has garnered itself a massive workload. As a result, the firm has reportedly been shuffling at least one associate from the East Coast over to California to help meet demand and retain control.

According to reliable sources, at the beginning of each week a team from BCJ meets with Apple to mull over proposed, in-progress and planned renovations to the various Apple retail stores. Recent meetings have revealed that Apple's retail initiative is continuing to move forward at full speed, with no signs of slowing down.

The schedules for these weekly gatherings are very demanding as are the Apple representatives on hand, sources said. Throughout the meetings, BCJ produces dozens of subtle variations on schemes, which are then reviewed with a fine-toothed comb. In the past, BCJ representatives would spend many weekends preparing for the meetings, but through trial and error the two companies have reportedly streamlined their workflow down to a science.

Reports indicate that Apple continues to pursue new international retail locations. Plans for company's forthcoming Osaka, Japan location are reportedly being adjusted and improved based on the performance of the recently launched Tokyo-based Apple retail store.

The Osaka location is reportedly spacious enough to allow Apple to adorn the store with a wide, spiral staircase that otherwise would not be ideal in its North American stores. According to sources, the stairs will mostly consist of glass panels, while the stringers (the sides of the stairs that hold up the treads) will likely act as primary support for the structure.

Current plans indicate that the staircase will descend from the second story, suspended from its landing at the top. "The structure will not reach the floor below, and instead will be suspended off the first floor by the height of one riser, completely hung from the floor above," one insider said. "You couldn't really do a staircase exactly like this in most parts of the US because in most jurisdictions there, you can't have open risers on your stairs any more due to life safety codes."

The BCJ firm is still using Beige Power Mac G3s running MicroStation SE and the usual assortment of graphics, database and productivity applications for its Apple contracts, sources said. However, since Bentley Software discontinued the Macintosh version of MicroStation in the late 90's, the firm has been forced to transition over to Windows PCs, with the exception of its Berkeley and Philadelphia offices.

"It was with reluctance that BCJ dropped its Macintosh labs in most locations, at least that's the impression I get," one source said. "We all wish Bentley would re-introduce MicroStation for Macs again, and while Bentley has expressed interest in doing so, the company hasn't found the critical mass to do so."