Saturday, 28 January 2012

From "Derelict to Desire" - Its hip to pop up in East London

No more than two years ago you could use the term "pop-up" retail and people would look blank wondering what you were talking about. Then it became synonymous with short-life stores that took over empty units in malls when a "proper" tenant could not be found or where there was a gap between tenancies. But last autumn the pop ups moved out of the mall and into a new type of short-term home - adapted sea containers. On a 4.7 hectare former railway goods-yard site in Bishopsgate in East London that has been derelict for at least forty years, a short-life two storey "mall" has been created, which has been named and branded as "Boxpark" and its creators claim its the world's first pop-up mall.   Designed by architects Waugh Thistleton it is such an obviously good way of using a vacant and derelict site that you wonder why its not been done in London before. Within a few months of its construction being completed it has become a new destination for a young audience that wants cool and edgy fashion from retailers who could not afford the rents of traditional malls or high street locations and who would probably not want to operate in such locations. The Boxpark brand, and I do not mean the graphic logo, has, in a few months become synonymous with being hip, being edgy and cutting edge and draws a smart art, culture and office crowd to its shops, eateries, bars and hang-out space, whose offer ranges from retro chic to tailored couture. This is yet another example of how an innovative retail concept has created a new kind of destination and changed the brand of a place from "derelict" to "desire".

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Retail's capacity to create a new destination brand in an unexpected place

A traditional Auben and Wills store on the left and a pared down version on the right, in Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, East London, UK

I'm a real afficiando of retail developments in as much as I like shops, high streets and malls as destinations to spend time in and enjoy urban life. Most of the retail places that I visit or work on as a placebrander and destination developer are planned in a great deal of detail and little is left to chance in the mix of their offer and the experience you get there.

Running counter to this, in London's East End, in Redchurch Street in the poor borough of Tower Hamlets, a new retail destination is emerging in a very unplanned, incremental and very exciting way that calls in to question brand planning.

A number of shops have opened in the recent past that would not seem out of place in the upmarket streets of the city's West-end area, which I never imagined would venture in to the much more edgy and gritty environment of inner East London. Stores like Auben and Wills, the shoe designer Tracy Neuls, APC, Margaret Howells and Sunspel are all now trading here and it appears they have a market and an audience, albeit not all of them living in the neighbourhood. My sense is that these are people who have been looking for a more edgy shopping experience, for a cooler shopping experience and one a world away from the dependability of the city centre offer.

In keeping with this characteristic of urban edginess Ben Qinn in the Guardian newspaper recently described the appearance of these shops as "tattered chic" due to the stripped down nature of their trading spaces and the battered appearance of the buildings they are housed in. In a way that has surprised London retail agents a new place brand and destination has sprung up on the city's retail map without anyone undertaking the usual brand planning work of the kind that keeps the wolf from my door. Not that I am complaining. I love to see places like this emerge and change the landscape and defy retail and planning conventions. This is definitely an area whose development will be well worth watching in the future. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Power of Art to Convey Place

I went to see the David Hockney "Bigger Picture" exhibition this afternoon at the Royal Academy in London and was reminded of the power of art, in painted and printed images, to transport its viewers to a completely different place and, as here, when there are so many large and related images of a particular place, in this instance the Wolds (low hills) of East Yorkshire, to bring that place in to another space (the Royal Academy) and make you feel you are there. Hockney has so effectively captured this place that it must now be propelled in to a larger and wider human consciousness of the character of its landscape, its colours and its weather patterns. Its to be hoped that this new found land is managed sensibly by those responsible for its marketing and promotion.

Designs on the Commonwealth Institute

I believe that Place Matters and the focus of this blog is about celebrating great places, what they offer and the experience of being there. In my book its the combination of offers that create unique and distinctive place brands. All too often these are far too rich and comprehensive to be captured by a mere logo or a tag line and you have to find the real story of the place to truly understand its brand.

With this in mind I have been delving in to the stories of the places that I work in and visit in the course of my work and looking for examples of ways in which places are being improved or new kinds of places are being created.

Last night my eye was caught by an article in the London Evening Standard about the planned move to the former Commonwealth Institute building of the Design Museum. I've liked the design and quirkiness of this building ever since I first saw it in 1973 when I came to work in central London. For a long time it was the place to hear and see what we now call "world music" and drama from the countries of the Commonwealth and it got me in to west African music and bands. But over time as other London venues grew in popularity and as the costs of occupying the building rose it fell in to disrepair and was eventually abandoned by the Institute, becoming a non-place in a way. 

Now that's all going to change with its reoccupation and repair by the Design Museum for which it will provide a larger and more central space to exhibit its great collection. The plans envisage quite a few changes to the original design which seem to me will be sympathetic and respectful of its Grade 2 listing status.

Once again this little part of Kensington will become a place of artistic integrity and entertainment.