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When tech met history: Apple at iconic Carnegie Library in Washington

Washington, June 16, 2019-

Shakespeare, Plato, Galileo and Newton. The legends came alive in 2019 when Apple (not the 17th-century “aha moment” in the life of young Newton that gave birth to the law of gravity) spent neatly $30 million to restore and revitalise historic Carnegie Library, a 1903 Beaux-Arts building at Mount Vernon Square in Washington, DC.

Billed as “Apple’s most extensive historic restoration project to date,” the library which was originally funded by Scottish-American business magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, has once again become a centre for learning, discovery and creativity.

Housing a full-fledged Apple Store, people can now explore latest products and work with over 225 staff members, offering advice and technical support as well as assistance for small businesses.

There are audio and video walks, community programmes and the “StoryMaker Festival” which have sessions led by 40 local artists, poets, activists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, law makers and community builders.

Visitors attend free daily sessions focused on photography, filmmaking, music creation, coding, design and more.

“The idea is to connect people with the history as they use technology. There is an immersive product experience room, with Apple HomePods blaring your favourite music. There are daily sessions which have become popular among people from all walks of life since we opened here last month,” Kathren who works at the store, told IANS.

According to Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail + People, the company is excited to share this magnificent space with all of our visitors and to provide a home for inspiration for the next generation.

The library’s original circulation desk and skylight area has been transformed into a double-height atrium and gathering space called the Forum.

Carnegie Library has the new DC History Center, which includes the Kiplinger Research Library, three galleries and a museum store, all owned and operated by the 125-year-old Historical Society of Washington, DC.

Teaming up with architecture firms Foster + Partners for design and Beyer Blinder Belle for preservation expertise, Apple worked with conservation experts to carefully preserve the historic facades, return interior spaces to their original footprints, and restore distinctive early 20th-century detailing.

The Vermont marble facade and sculptures on the building’s south side have been completely restored.

Located where the library’s book stacks were housed, the “Genius Grove” is where Apple Carnegie Library’s team offer personalised technical support and advice.

A grand staircase leads to the DC History Center on the second floor and the Carnegie Gallery in the basement, which displays historic photographs and documents for the public to learn about the origins and history of the building.

The Apple team speaks 27 languages, including more than 20 team members fluent in American Sign Language.

“It is a great feeling to be working at an iconic building. The vibrant community around makes us feel that this is where technology meets history in the best possible way,” Kathren noted.

The Carnegie Library was Washington’s first public library and first desegregated public building and served as DC’s central library until 1970.

It then sat as a party rental space until the DC Historical Society garnered a rent-free 99-year lease with the city in 1999. The society launched a City Museum of Washington, DC in the building in 2003, but it closed just one year later.

Since then, the library building was targeted for a range of never-built proposals, including as a music museum and an international spy museum.

Apple, which calls such stores “town squares,” has also proposed to relive the same experience in places like Stockholm and Melbourne.

Apple Carnegie is the 13th such location to try to deliver on the concept, often located in historic and iconic sites and intended to be used for more than just selling phones and computers.  (Agency)

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