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High Street supermarket: a civic place in Whitechapel

Part 2 Project 2011
Elena Licci
Kingston University Kingston-Upon-Thames UK
The project is a reflection upon the high street and the nature of shopping, a quintessential high street activity. As the place for everyday shopping has increasingly become the supermarket, the project develops a critical attitude to the way these buildings are designed and erected in our cities. Looking back to the Greek Agora, the Roman Forum, the medieval market square and the 19th century arcade, it is clear that shopping has always provided towns with places that take on significant civic roles. The project asks why supermarkets cannot play such a role within our contemporary cities and what might allow this to happen.

The proposal is sited on an urban block in Whitechapel, East London, which already includes a public library, a pub, a former brewery and a superstore. This anonymous industrial shed, surrounded by a car park, is transformed into a catalyst for public and domestic life. Three shopping experiences, arcade, market and supermarket, define a new place in the city.

In considering the economics of a “civic” supermarket, the site is densified and brought into dialogue with the existing high street, through an arcade building alongside the new supermarket. This intensification, which makes under-ground parking viable, allows the ground to be liberated from the car and the existing Whitechapel Market to be extended onto the site, in the form of a new market square. This hosts a farmers market that would be mutually supportive with the supermarket. The attraction of its produce would offer a wider catchment for the latters everyday goods. Conversely, the proximity of the supermarket and the ‘weekly shop’ would justify a trip to a market.

The project focuses particularly on the design of the supermarket itself, reimagining it as a series of rooms, where people can orientate themselves through the character of each space, rather than by signage alone. The trend for smaller shops within the curtilage of the larger one is extended to form a local ‘high street’, enlivening the street edge and providing daily essentials for the immediate community.

This is accommodated, above the public ground, through residential dwellings arranged around private courts, which maintain visual relationships with both the main public spaces and the supermarket interiors below. Housing offers another architectural and urban scale as well as further increasing land values and bringing life and community to the site.

Elena Licci


Daniel Rosbottom
• Page Hits: 6247         • Entry Date: 14 September 2011         • Last Update: 14 September 2011