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Leadership and vision is needed to save Greenwich’s eco-Sainsbury’s

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Listing is an avenue worth exploring. But it’s a long shot, writes Hattie Hartman

When completed in 1999, Chetwoods Architects’ Sainsbury’s in Greenwich had it all. Its thorough approach to eco-design - rigorous even by today’s standards - embodied an idealism commensurate with the turning of the millennium.
Today it is slated for demolition. If the planning consent submitted by IKEA is approved once the consultation period concludes next week, it will be replaced with a blue and yellow shed six times its size.

An online petition spearheaded by Black Architecture’s Paul Hinkin (who worked on the Sainsbury’s for five years when at Chetwoods Architects) opposing the supermarket’s demolition has garnered 740 signatures - including Bristol mayor George Ferguson, ex-RIBA president Angela Brady and Green Party leader Natalie Benn.

Upon completion, the supermarket’s ‘fabric first’ approach meant that it exceeded current Building Regulations by 20 per cent, and was predicted to use 50 per cent of the operational energy of a comparable conventional store.

Rooflights contribute to a daylit interior - rare for this building type - which reduces lighting loads. Earth tubes pre-condition air for ventilation and waste heat from an on-site CHP plant provides all heating and the base electrical load.
The building’s accolades include a place on the Stirling Prize shortlist and a trawl through the Sainsbury’s website reveals the pride of place of the design: ‘The Greenwich store acted as a blueprint for Sainsbury’s subsequent environmental stores.’ Ironically, while announcing plans in November to vacate the Greenwich store in favour of premises three times larger in nearby Charlton, Sainsbury’s simultaneously launched its first ‘triple zero’ stores: zero operational carbon, zero water impact on the local catchment area and zero waste to landfill.

The ultimate dealbreaker for the Greenwich store is a restrictive covenant negotiated by Sainsbury’s which prevents a food retail competitor from occupying the premises, part of the development agreement for the new Charlton site.

Opinions about the demolition are mixed. Greenwich and Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford says that the store was ‘groundbreaking when it opened - way ahead of any other supermarket at the time’. Raynsford sees the building’s limitations today as two-fold: its form makes it challenging to adapt or expand and its ‘indifferent surroundings’ - a Comet superstore and Odeon cinema complex - make it awkward to spot-list.

Hinkin counters that the building could be extended by 25 per cent to the south and that designing for 300 per cent expansion is unrealistic. He would like to see IKEA’s outline application refused for failure to meet the borough’s sustainable development objectives. Preliminary discussions with the Twentieth Century Society suggest that listing - seemingly outlandish for a building that is only 14 years old - is an avenue worth exploring. But it’s a long shot.

Demolition is mad. What is needed is creative vision and leadership to find a new use for the building. Another food retailer is an obvious choice but, surely, a 3,000m² column-free space lends itself to many uses.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • What a shocking situation!

    In a time when we are trying to reduce waste and build for the future, a building designed exactly for that is being considered for demolition.

    and the reason could be no more rediculous, to demolish a true eco supermarket for a big blue eyesore box.

    It just smacks of a throw away culture that fits perfectly with the cheap almost disposable goods that ikea sells. Though i thought Ikea had a much more sustainable core corporate responsibilty.

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