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BDP sets out vision for future high streets and retail

CGI of King's Mall, Hammersmith London - remodelled outside space (BDP)

As part of our forum series on the future shape of high streets and shopping centres, we asked architect director at BDP, Garry Wilding, for his vision post pandemic. Garry has worked internationally and across major developments such as Meadowhall in Sheffield and the Lexicon in Bracknell, Berkshire – the latter for investors L&G Capital and Schroder UK Real Estate Fund.

He spoke on the following themes: the need for an inter-generational focus, the creation of public performance and entertainment spaces, the requirement for curation during the day and in the evening, and investment in public realm.

Garry described the effect - as he sees it - of the pandemic on retail:

‘It has certainly changed it. Some of the smaller shopping centres will close. The recent headline on store closures from the John Lewis department store chain was stark. They have closed Vanguard Way in York, for instance which was a relatively recent addition. However, there will be a shift and those shopping centres with the right catchment and the right owners won’t die. There will be less reliance on retail and on food. There will be more focus on outdoor spaces and entertainment.

What motivates people to do things? If you can add pieces of people’s passions into shopping centres then you can create a piece of life. I think flexibility is important.

‘The Lex is really good example. Opened in Bracknell in 2017, the project was a transformation of a 1950s new town where we created an amphitheatre set of steps, as the main event space – and that is the right thing to do today. Having green space is important, as at Westfield in Stratford, East London with the Olympic Park nearby so that families and visitors have a mix of activities.

Garry went on to explain how BDP is currently re-thinking shopping centres:

‘What’s interesting to me is the inter-generational focus. How do we get more people from different age groups living in town centres? It’s not just about the 25 – 40 age group living there. Some centres have too much retail and too much focus on food and restaurants, and because of online shopping growth that is not sustainable. There is a lot of space that can be unlocked for leisure and residential. If you designate a district as a conservation area, you protect but you also need to feed it. The same is true for city centres. These need lifeblood and activity at different times of day.’

‘We are working on King’s Mall near the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, west London. This shopping centre sits within a Richard Seifert designed complex from the 1970s. Ingka (IKEA) bought it one year ago with the need to put a store in. It sits at the heart of Hammersmith, which in fact has quite a lot of office development. There was a refurbishment done three years ago, but not a very sensitive one. Our brief is to make it a place to spend time. IKEA have a philosophy of the ‘meeting place’ which is designed to cater for the needs of community. What we are proposing is an amphitheatre of steps, a public space surrounded by residents. The spaces have been unloved but we can make much more of the site with a flexible events space to give it a heart and focus. We have an ambition to create a community hub. It will be flexible with five kiosks and a ‘maker’ space run by IKEA to ‘hack IKEA furniture’, and space for Pilates, boxercise and other activities. The plan is to curate it in a similar way to the successful Boxparks. It will provide different things throughout the day, and it needs to be curated.

How does King’s Mall compete with for instance the behemoth of Westfield White City which is just up the road at Shepherd’s Bush or even with Regent Street? The answer lies partly in the need for localism and community amenities that have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.’

‘It’s a subversion of what IKEA has done in the past. The company is, in part, moving away from the car. In developed markets in Europe IKEA is developing urban sites, while in regions across India and Russia, BDP is working on the big out-of-town blue and yellow blocks that mark out the traditional IKEA approach.

Ingka Centres (part of Ingka Group), which has 45 shopping centres in 15 countries, acquired King’s Mall in January 2020 from Schroder UK Real Estate Fund, with a plan to transform the shopping centre into a new IKEA-anchored urban, mixed-use destination, helping to regenerate Hammersmith. Urban projects like King’s Mall, the company writes, are designed to complement IKEA’s retail strategy of opening smaller format stores in inner city locations in response to global urbanisation trends and the digitisation of retail. King’s Mall comprises 27,133 square metres and 604 car parking spaces.

Garry continued:

‘I think the way people approach projects has really changed. I am amazed at how busy we as a practice, more so than a couple of years ago. Public realm improvements have been accelerated because of Covid-19. Regent Street has had little landscaping since it was first created by Nash in the 1800’s. In late 2020 BDP’s Chris Stanton and Nick Edwards increased the width of pavement and added 80 to 100 planters, putting trees on Regents Street for the first time in history. It’s happened partly as a response to Covid-19 impact in order to make it feel cleaner and greener. It’s a temporary intervention and trial looking at what difference this can make over one year.

‘It’s a really interesting time to see if centres can be stronger with more culture and with less focus on single use such as shopping. We think localism will benefit areas like Hammersmith and these will evolve as people will live and work more locally. You will escape your local office for a coffee or to meet someone so you will be more connected with where you live. That will mean people taking more pride in their local area. Secondary centres may thrive, while there are more questions to resolve about the traditional city centres, where corporate offices and big retail have dominated in the past.’

Look out for Future Cities Forum’s ‘Future High Streets Report 2021’ to be published in May.

Image: view from mezzanine and steps at King's Mall, Hammersmith (BDP)


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