As lockdowns lift and the sun comes out, shoppers, diners and office workers are hitting the pavements again.
Outdoor dining and non-essential shops restarted in April, and the focus is back on London’s consumption centres and how developers and councils are reshaping the landscape. As high streets and shopping malls struggle – as they did even before the pandemic – we need to understand what kind of experiences people are looking for from retail and hospitality.
The answer may come from the mixed-use development projects that have regenerated previously run down areas of the city. Architecturally appealing, aesthetically distinct and free from the tedious and uninspiring mazes we call shopping malls.
So let’s look at a few of the most successful projects that have created a blueprint for more to come.
Coal drops yard
Designed by the famed Thomas Heatherwick and completed in 2018, the space has already attracted well-known brands like Aesop, Cos, Paul Smith and Tom Dixon, as well as foodie spots like Catalan tapas bar, Barrafina, and Redemption Roasters, a cafe training young offenders as baristas to help them return to society. The people are a mix of office workers, market traders and art students from nearby Central St Martins, all putting their stamp on the area, wandering the historic Regents Canal.
It’s no wonder all sorts of businesses have made the area their home, even drawing some financial services from their traditional addresses in the City and Canary Wharf. Zar Amrolia, an executive at a local fintech business, is just one of the many financiers who have made such a move. The vibe here is still competitive, but less suit and tie, more shirt and jeans.
Just look across the canal, where Google has placed their newest offices, bringing their artificial intelligence unit, DeepMind, run by neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, with them – as well as hundreds of tech workers with lunch money to burn. The Guardian newspaper has been here since 2008, and the Aga Khan Centre, an Islamic cultural education institution, opened in 2018.
The architecture of Coal Drops Yard is intended to be the antithesis of a shopping centre. Heatherwick said he “wanted to do something very porous and with lots of entrances that prioritised social interaction and experience. In the digital age, that’s more important than ever.”
And now, in a post-Covid London, Coal Drops Yard has another thing going for it. It is mostly open air, and surrounded by wide open spaces (try the food markets on Granary Square and Lewis Cubitt Square why don’t you.) Lucky that they created many spaces for al fresco dining, we expect Coal Drops Yard will be hoovering up the foot traffic in the months to come.
One of the most exciting and wide-ranging regeneration projects in London at the moment is on the south bank of the river in Nine Elms, the stretch between Vauxhall and Battersea. Take a trip there today and you will see new high rises beginning to stretch into the sky. The area is very much WIP, but the ambition is high.
There are currently 42 building projects going on, including the transformation of the historic Battersea Power Station into flats and shops and the building of the new American Embassy, which has moved from its old home in Mayfair.
The area’s proximity to Westminster and one of London’s great green spaces at Battersea Park is attracting young and ambitious professionals, and they have money to spend.
Donald Trump famously called the area “lousy” when he was president, but with two new tube stations, already-vibrant nightlife in Vauxhall, green outdoor spaces and public art installations, it is gradually proving him wrong. As Covid recedes, expect Nine Elms to buzz with energy and life.
There are many more projects that go beyond the usual property developer hype. London Bridge Station, for instance, which won the coveted Stirling Prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2019, has converted its many railway arches to retail and hospitality, and is a stone’s throw from Borough Market and Flat Iron Square street food market.
Nova, across the road from Victoria Station, is ideally placed for tourists visiting Buckingham Palace and for civil servants bored of Cardinal Place and Victoria Street. It has attracted relatively newer brands like Bone Daddies ramen, Ahi Poke and Crosstown Donuts.
2020 has certainly made us all reevaluate how we spend our time and our money. A focus on togetherness and social interaction is what will make or break a city. The pent-up desire to spend needs to go somewhere, and with more and more of these mixed-use developments catering to the need for a memorable experience, footfall will inevitably move towards better designed spaces like these.