Shop Therapy

Despite the blows delivered to retail by the recession, there’s still scope to give place and permeability to Leeds and beyond

Look up and see the steeple: the struggle to create a sense of place when retailers want shoppers concentrating on their wares at Trinity Leeds.
Look up and see the steeple: the struggle to create a sense of place when retailers want shoppers concentrating on their wares at Trinity Leeds.

Retail is dead? Try telling that to the 130,000 people who visited Trinity Leeds when it opened on 21 March. Leeds is famous for its beautiful shopping arcades and decent spend. That might explain why more than one practice is getting to hone its retail design in the city. 

Trinity Leeds, by Land Securities, and Hammerson’s Eastgate Quarters have long been competitors for city presence. Both were knocked by recession but Trinity Leeds was first off the block in recovery and has now bagged big names like Primark and Topshop among its many tenants. Chapman Taylor took over the Trinity design from EMBT and Stanley Bragg Architects when Land Securities bought the project. It’s an old Land Sec hand, with Exeter’s Princesshay and Cabot Circus in Bristol under its belt.  Without going back to planning it aimed to create a more viable project, explains director Adrian Griffiths, in particular simplifying earlier designs for an expressive and expensive EMBT roof. 

‘Last year Hammerson’s bought Victoria Quarter with Matcham’s ornate grade II* listed arcade, which will create a natural route from the city centre to Eastgate Quarters’

Rebuild work on site at Hammerson’s rather reduced Eastgate Quarters is planned to start in spring 2014. Friedrich Ludewig of ACME worked with both Hammerson’s and John Lewis while at Foreign Office Architects.  When he started on the Leeds project in 2008 he admits there was the presumption that retail was just going to get bigger and better. But the credit-crunched scale suits him down to the ground, with its variety of independent buildings which will tap into Leeds’  arcade culture. Last year Hammerson’s bought Victoria Quarter with Matcham’s ornate grade II* listed arcade, which will create a natural route from the city centre to Eastgate Quarters (which is a little ‘off pitch’ in retail parlance). 

Pre-planning visualisations of ACME’s design show it playing around with the glazing and proportions to get the atmosphere of an arcade. ‘You want it to be beautiful with its own rhythm,’ says Ludewig. The John Lewis store will borrow from London’s Selfridges by using rich three-dimensional articulation to distract from the retail-required blankness of the windows. 

Meanwhile, Archial has been struggling to turn a single storey 1950s arcade into something a little more salubrious to link smarter shopping streets with the Market and Corn Exchange areas – a collaboration that tapped into the concerns of the city centre regeneration team. Equally, Chapman Taylor will shortly address the less than lovely existing shopping centre alongside Trinity Leeds and turn it out to face the bustling Albion Street again.

Working with the grain in Harrogate, in Cambridge Crescent
Working with the grain in Harrogate, in Cambridge Crescent

‘Griffiths is not suggesting chains are kept out of cities, but that retailers are encouraged to think how they are part of the scene, perhaps by being pushed a bit to make their shopfronts work with the street’

But even the one million square feet of Trinity Leeds can’t compete on size with neighbour Sheffield’s out of town Meadowhall (which is half as large again and has expansion plans). And these city centre shopping centres are rivalling out of town malls. They still offer car parking and are likely to be at least partially covered, but they are far better at tapping into, and creating, a sense of place. At Trinity Leeds visitors can situate themselves with views of the spire of Holy Trinity Church. Griffiths is proud of the masterplanning Chapman Taylor has developed, often with open streets, mixed uses, active edges and strong connections. And Princesshay in Exeter and the Greyfriars section of the Bristol scheme certainly add to the cities.  

‘I hate the idea of clone towns,’ says Griffiths. He is not suggesting chains are kept out of cities, but that retailers are encouraged to think how they are part of the scene, perhaps by being pushed a bit to make their shopfronts work with the street. Ludewig picks up on the same elements, noting the historic arcades’ curved glass and gold lettering on black, and speculating how this sort of beauty and identity might be achieved on his project. 

Beyond Leeds

In York the issues of city centre or out of town retail have been fought out with the emotive backdrop of the historic city centre. The long running saga of Coppergate has left a rather large hole  in the city, while the big names have decamped to edge-of-town Monks Cross, which will house a 120,000ft2 John Lewis as well as a massive M&S alongside an existing offer of supermarkets. DLA Design, which drew up the plans, admits it has been controversial but, like other retail architects, DLA’s John Orrell points out that if a city wants the presence of certain retailers then it has to find space for them. 

Orrell prefers the model of DLA’s Parliament Street work in Harrogate with its smaller scale insertions. It perhaps helps that this scheme is for Lateral Property Group, which has a significant stake in the town through its ownership of the Royal Baths and Parliament Street, which leads to it.  Grand plans for pedestrianisation fell through but insertions of units into an Owen Luder-designed building (a letting to Jamie’s Italian has helped) and a well-mixed development in the next door block of three small retail units, (flats above and bars at the back) is a pleasing arrangement. With 35% or so of his practice’s work in ‘bog standard’ retail this, he feels, offers a little more scope. 

It is clear, though, that retail can no longer carry the burden of regeneration as many thought it might in the New Labour years. From the high street malaise examined by Mary Portas, and the British Retail Consortium report of 11.3% shop vacancy rate, to the scaled-down shopping centres: while retail is still a force to be reckoned with, the grandest plans, and all that hangs on them, have had be rethought over recent years – and will into the foreseeable future. 

Parliament Street, by DLA Design.
Parliament Street, by DLA Design.

PERSONAL PILOT

The 2011 Mary Portas review into the future of the high street was seen as addressing the smaller high streets of market towns. But Hull put in one of the 371 bids for a ‘Portas Pilot’ to fund initiatives around her suggestions. White Friargate is seen as a dying street and the development of St Stephens in 2007, away from the older city centre, has diverted shopping attention from it. In fact it has become a place that shoppers travel to by car. Despite council-commissioned masterplans to revive White Friargate, the anchor M&S is on the cusp of leaving. And it did not win money for a Portas boost. Diploma student Natalie Leward suggested taking an urban block and dedicating it to makers and repairers to turn it into a centre for upcycling, the home of reinvention becoming the hub for a wider reinvention of the street (below).