‘Public vandalism’: M&S wants to flatten its art deco flagship store – here are six alternative options

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As nan trusted purveyor of pants and socks to nan federation since 1884, Marks & Spencer makes for an improbable villain successful 1 of nan astir high-profile readying battles of nan century. But, since nan venerable retailer announced plans to flatten its 1920s art deco flagship shop connected Oxford Street successful London and switch it pinch a 10-storey mixed-use behemoth, it has been accused of trampling connected nan very psyche of nan country’s astir celebrated shopping street, arsenic good arsenic gleefully cheering connected nan demolition of nan planet.

“Don’t inquire nan price, it’s a penny,” was nan motto of nan shop’s founder, Michael Marks, erstwhile he opened his homewares stall successful Leeds successful 1884. “Don’t inquire nan price, it’s only 40,000 tonnes of carbon,” mightiness beryllium nan modern-day equivalent, fixed its redevelopment plans – which campaigners opportunity would spot about that overmuch CO2 released into nan ambiance if built. The retailer has said, however, that its planned improvement would usage 25% little power than nan existing site, pinch a maximum c payback of 17 years.

The proposals, which person been successful and retired of readying inquiries and appeals since 2021, person been called “a grievous enactment of nationalist vandalism” and “a ambiance crime amid a planetary emergency”. The readying exertion was primitively granted support by Westminster council, a determination that was past called successful and quashed by caput of authorities Michael Gove, whose decision-making process was successful move ruled unlawful successful March, aft M&S appealed. The shot is now backmost successful Gove’s (or, much likely, his successor’s) court, arsenic nan ailing British marque limps connected successful its outdated home.

Help is astatine manus … nan creation deco flagship connected nan celebrated shopping street.
Help is astatine manus … nan creation deco flagship connected nan celebrated shopping street. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

The overseas thing, which mightiness travel arsenic a astonishment if you haven’t been pursuing nan saga, is that nan section shop really wants to downsize its unit space. In nan look of online shopping and declining footfall, M&S plans to condense its existent 5 storeys of unit down to two, reducing nan level area dedicated to shopping by much than half – while erecting a building doubly nan size of its existing one.

Designed by firm patient Pilbrow & Partners, the projected hulk will not beryllium a multi-storey unit palace of comfy cardigans and elasticated cords, but 45,000 quadrate metres of speculative agency space, pinch shopping stuffed down below. The architects scheme to wrap their elephantine lump pinch a relentless grey grid, and crown it pinch a large overhanging tile (further topped pinch further floors), giving it nan faceless, tyrannical aerial of immoderate authoritarian authorities ministry.

The squad is led by Fred Pilbrow who, astatine his erstwhile employers PLP and KPF, authored nan colossal slug of The Francis Crick Institute successful King’s Cross, conscionable crossed town, and nan hefty cross-gartered shaft of the Heron Tower successful nan City. It seems he likes to spell big.

The architects reason that their M&S creation “possesses a intelligibly legible DNA erstwhile viewed successful nan Townscape” pinch “points of permeability” (also known arsenic doors) liberally distributed astatine crushed level. The existing analyzable – made up of nan 1929 area building flanked by 2 later additions – is damned arsenic “inefficient”, “confusing” and “hostile”, pinch facades that are “not unsocial aliases peculiarly unusual”.

M&S, meanwhile, believes its existent home, pinch its misaligned floors and comparatively debased ceilings, is “impossible to modernise”, a ray refurbishment action incapable to “provide an improved unit and leisure experience”. All of which seems to uncover an abject deficiency of imagination arsenic to really a complete translator could beryllium accomplished without resorting to nan wrecking ball.

But thief is now astatine hand, acknowledgment to Save Britain’s Heritage and nan Architects’ Journal. They person been starring guidance to nan plans from nan beginning, teaming up to inject immoderate much blase architectural reasoning than is presently connected connection from M&S. Last month, they launched a competition for replacement proposals for nan existing buildings, prompting a wide scope of ingenious responses. Six teams were shortlisted and fleshed retired their proposals astatine a caller unrecorded creation shop attended by nan Guardian.

A sanctuary for slow manner … Jestico + Whiles’s connection for rejuvenating nan Marks & Spencer store.
A sanctuary for slow manner … Jestico + Whiles’s connection for rejuvenating nan Marks & Spencer store. Photograph: Stephen Sheriff/Architects’ Journal / SAVE

“This is an opportunity to do thing imaginative pinch a building that’s not listed and not successful a conservation area,” says Save head Henrietta Billings. “It is an rumor that affects precocious streets crossed nan UK: really to repurpose section stores without flattening them; really to summation their longevity successful a measurement that keeps nan memories of nan building and nan place. Shopping habits are changing, but that doesn’t mean we person to erase everything.”

M&S has threatened to time off nan flagship tract if it doesn’t get its way, to which galore of nan shortlisted creation teams person said: “Good riddance.” Marks Barfield, architects of nan London Eye, deliberation nan shop could beryllium transformed into nan Circular Economy Hub, a multi-storey centre of mending and making. They propose repair workshops, a materials salvage yard, arsenic good arsenic offices and studios for businesses dedicated to nan information economy, connected by a large spiralling ramp.

Jestico + Whiles proceed nan up-cycling taxable pinch their connection for a Palace of Sustentation, a sanctuary for slow fashion, conceived arsenic a sustainable replacement to nan accelerated manner outlets that statement Oxford Street. With nan manner and building industries together being responsible for astir half of each world c emissions, they ideate nan refurbished building becoming a hub, hosting lectures and workshops connected repurposing apparel – pinch caller homes built connected nan tile to thief salary for it, playing connected nan thought of “living supra nan shop”.

Circular reasoning … Connolly Wellingham’s proposal.
Circular reasoning … Connolly Wellingham’s proposal. Photograph: Stephen Sheriff/Architects’ Journal / SAVE

Young Bristol-based believe Connolly Wellingham, specialists successful adapting historical buildings, look astatine wherever openings could beryllium punched to springiness nan spaces a caller lease of life. They ideate a sculptural cylindrical atrium that would bring daylight and caller aerial into nan centre of nan deep-plan complex, adding a dose of spatial play to nan drab floors. They propose ripping retired nan suspended ceilings to create much generous spaces, and introducing a layout that nods to nan smaller crippled sizes of nan historical thoroughfare pattern, successful opposition to nan bewildering standard of nan existent unit area.

Another young heritage-focused duo, Add Apt, besides return an urban-scale approach, imagining 2 caller arcades slicing done nan building astatine crushed level level, bringing nan bustle of Oxford Street inside. They ideate 1 way arsenic an “experiential” arcade, lined pinch integer screens wherever brands could woo punters pinch multimedia merchandise launches, while nan different would beryllium a “pop-up” arcade, pinch smaller units for fledgling businesses. Pilbrow’s strategy besides proposes caller arcades to lure group in, but Add Apt show that this doesn’t require full demolition.

Saqqra, a caller outfit led by Marwa El Mubark and Nile Bridgeman, focuses connected nan frontages. They reason that nan existing shop is backmost to front, pinch blocked up windows facing nan street, and unit buried distant successful nan middle. They propose stripping nan existing building of caller additions, bringing backmost nan original “Neo-Grec grandeur”, removing obstacles that person agelong shielded views of nan interiors from nan thoroughfare and replacing them pinch wholly openable shopfronts that would let activity to spill retired connected to nan pavement. Strategic demolitions would present much ray and ventilation, pinch nan removed materials reused successful caller partitions.

Finally, retrofit stalwarts Avanti person travel up pinch nan astir broad and realistic strategy, bringing together galore of nan aforementioned ideas into 1 compelling package – which M&S could rotation retired tomorrow. They situation nan existent obsession pinch making unit floors arsenic large arsenic possible, alternatively choosing to abstracted nan conjoined structures to let multi-tenanting and amended legibility, removing nan disorienting consciousness of being trapped successful a windowless mall.

‘Entirely openable shopfronts’ … Saqqra’s shortlisted entry.
‘Entirely openable shopfronts’ … Saqqra’s shortlisted entry. Photograph: Stephen Sheriff/Architects’ Journal / SAVE

Taking an overview of nan full metropolis block, they propose to unfastened nan blocked-up crushed level windows and activity pinch nan original creation of nan facades to present double-height shopfronts beneath reinstated canopies. They would besides carve retired 2 caller arcades to link nan 2 sides of nan site, and propose adding further floors connected nan roof, made of lightweight cross-laminated timber, designed for easy disassembly.

“It’s very easy to autumn retired of emotion pinch buildings erstwhile they spell done decades of under-investment,” says Avanti director, Fiona Lamb. “They conscionable request immoderate attraction and attraction to uncover their afloat potential.”

In these six schemes alone, location is simply a wealthiness of ingenuity, thing that’s sadly lacking from M&S’s short-sighted plan. With a fewer blase interventions, nan existent buildings could beryllium eminently reborn, brought up to modern biology standards, and clasp nan characteristic of this important chunk of nan metropolis – without needlessly throwing much substance connected nan ambiance bonfire.

The expertise exists. It is not excessively precocious for nan illustrious British marque to alteration its mind and burnish its zero-carbon credentials pinch a world-leading exemplary of adaptive reuse.

Source theguardian