Why is Tesco shelving design responsibility?
Nicholas Grimshaw, Lifschutz Davidson, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard. . . the recent history of supermarket architecture is bound up with an illustrious list of names.
Its status reached a peak at the end of last year when Chetwood Associates' Sainsbury's supermarket in Greenwich was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, won the RIBA sustainability award, and was voted the 'people's choice'. But this week's AJ news story about plans for a new Tesco store in the East Yorkshire town of Beverley suggests that second-rate supermarkets continue to be built. It seems that we still assume that the fact that a building is 'just' a supermarket justifies a degree of complacency over its design. This is a perverse point of view: supermarkets often outstrip local civic buildings in size and the in-town supermarket is an integral part of a townscape, not simply an outsize grocery store. It is also a workplace and, increasingly, a garden centre, newsagent, cafe and bank. The supermarket is a vital community facility which is used by a greater proportion of the population than any other building type.
We know that Tesco is capable of recognising and procuring high-calibre architecture. The recently opened Ludlow store by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard has been greeted with critical acclaim. In particular, it has been praised for its sensitive response to context - Ludlow, like Beverley, is a historic market town. The proposed Beverley store is on an edge-of-town site and has the potential to be a positive episode in the evolution of this historic town. Its quality will have a vital impact on the way the town is perceived by visitors and residents alike.
Tesco claims that its design for the Beverley store is simply a response to the demands of local planners.
Doubtless this is true. But being a client brings responsibilities, and it is simply not acceptable for Tesco to distance itself from its own scheme. And it is difficult to believe that an organisation which is influential, a local employer, and an experienced professional client does not have the leverage, patience or skill to work with the council to produce a more acceptable result.