Apple says icicle problem at downtown store should be resolved ‘soon’

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The walkway around the Michigan Ave. Apple Store was closed-off Friday and signs were posted warning of slippery conditions and falling ice. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A problem with the Apple Store’s melt system left icicles hanging along the roof of the Michigan Avenue store this week, but a spokeswoman for the tech giant said the issuecould be fixed as soon as Saturday.

The store, which opened along the Riverwalk in October, has a roof shaped like a MacBook, which may be contributing to its icicle problems. Because of the week’s low temperatures and snowy conditions, photos on social media show icicles clinging to the roof’s edges and signs warning pedestrians of falling ice.

Christopher Chwedyk, a consultant for Burnham Nationwide, which was a consultant for the architects of the store, said ice wasn’t a major concern when the store was being built.

The spokeswoman disputed that, saying the company “definitely considered” snow and ice when creating its flagship store.

As for addressing the problem, Chwedyk said roping off areas are a good “stopgap” to make sure people don’t get hurt until design changes can be considered and possibly implemented.

Icicles dangle from the roof of the Apple Store on North Michigan Avenue. | Provided by Matt Maldre

Icicles dangle from the roof of the Apple Store on North Michigan Avenue. | Provided by Matt Maldre

“Flat roofs are notorious for this kind of thing and the overhang for this roof is so far out there’s no heat getting to it,” Chwedyk said. “There was no precedent or prototype for this kind of building, so right now the owners are doing the right thing by putting up signs and cordoning areas off until they can make a change.”

Chwedyk said changes that may help include a heating element to make sure that ice doesn’t build up, but at 20 below there’s “not much anyone can do.”

Architects Foster + Partners were not available for comment, but the city’s Department of Planning and Development said the problem “is a maintenance issue best resolved in the design phase between the architectural firm and its client.”

If the icicles do fall and hit a passerby, personal injury lawyer Robert Shulman said Apple may be off the hook thanks to a distinction between natural and unnatural accumulation of ice in the law.

Lawyers would have to look at why icicles are forming on the roof to determine whether or not they’d go through with a case, Shulman said.

“If they’re forming because of some kind of leak or a faulty gutter system, then the property owner would be obligated to correct it,” Shulman said. “If it’s a natural occurrence, like sheets of ice building up over time, then there’s no obligation on the property owners to fix it.”

If the owners of the Michigan store try to remove the icicles but don’t do a thorough job, they may then be liable for harming pedestrians, Shulman said, but it all depends on the design.

Chwedyk said once the problem is thoroughly considered, consultants or architects may create a proposal to make sure icicles don’t form again next year.

“To fix this for the long term, it’s going to take a combination of the owners, the architects and the contractors coming up with a reasonable solution,” Chwedyk said. “They’ll have to put their heads together and bring back the same effort that was involved in the design itself.”

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