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Grimshaw’s Camden Sainsbury’s becomes first listed supermarket


Nicholas Grimshaw’s Camden Sainsbury’s store in London has become the first purpose-built supermarket in the UK to be listed

Following the advice of Historic England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has listed the building, which is part of the High-Tech Grand Union Complex on Camden Road, at Grade II.

The development’s terrace of houses facing Regent’s Canal has also received the same listing.

However, a third part of the scheme, comprising Grand Union House, a workshop building on Kentish Town Road, and a small detached building which was formerly a creche was deemed not to meet the criteria for listing.

The Twentieth Century Society submitted an application for Grimshaw’s £14 million scheme to be listed in February this year after developer Sellar revealed plans to partly demolish Grand Union House to create a new office building with a roof terrace.

The design by architect Andrew Phillips also proposed demolishing the crèche in favour of a four-storey block of affordable housing with retail units on the ground floor.

While pleased that the supermarket and housing has been listed, Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft said the listing report ‘completely misses the point that it was a pioneering mixed development’.

She said: ‘Grand Union House is deliberately the least architecturally expressive because that suits its function, but it’s definitely an integral part of the whole development and it’s extremely foolish not to recognise that.’

Andrew Phillips, a former design director at David Chipperfield Architects who set up his own practice in 2013, said: ‘There was never much doubt that Grimshaw’s supermarket and canal housing should be listed. Historic England and DCMS have concurred with our own view that, ultimately, the building in Kentish Town Road is not quite in the same league.

‘This decision means that a seriously anti-social area of public realm so close to the heart of Camden Town’s centre can now be addressed.’

Sainsbury’s set up a design advisory committee in 1985 to commission architects to work on some of its supermarkets. Built 1986-1988, the Grand Union Complex was the first piece of urban design undertaken by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners and its listed parts are considered to be excellent examples of High-Tech architecture, which borrows from the worlds of engineering and construction.

The supermarket’s visible steel frame is clad in glass and aluminium panels, while the industrial feel of the 10 houses and two flats of Grand Union Walk reflects the neighbouring working canal.

Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s chief executive, said: ‘The Camden Road Sainsbury’s is an outstanding example of High-Tech architecture in a busy urban setting. It is an unapologetically futuristic building which also sits comfortably alongside its historic neighbours – matching the scale of the 19th-century terrace opposite – and rightly deserves to be recognised for its architectural significance.’

Other listed High-Tech buildings include Foster’s Grade II*-listed Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, also commissioned by the supermarket chain.

Historic England: ‘Why we didn’t list Grand Union House’

Grand Union House, and with it the small crèche building, is clearly the least interesting or successful element of the scheme. Its long street frontage is crisply detailed at first floor but insufficiently articulated in relation to its length and with most of the tall ground floor level given over to surface parking rather than the commercial units desired by the architects and the planners, the building does not fulfil its potential either aesthetically or spatially.

Being part of this group is not sufficient in itself to warrant listing

That is not to say it is without interest; as discussed above it is part of an ambitious piece of urban planning with which it shares a material palette, a high quality of detailing and a broad architectural language.

Forming part of this group however is not sufficient in itself to warrant listing – each element must stand on its own merit. As a piece of late-C20 commercial architecture, Grand Union House does not have sufficient claims to special interest and is therefore not recommended for listing. The former crèche, though stylish and well-detailed, is a modest building in scale and, like Grand Union House, does not have sufficient claims to special interest and is therefore not recommend for listing.



Readers' comments (2)

  • Arguably the workshop and creche are the more forward looking part of the ensemble. Supermarket with parking in a City Centre site and canalside private residential development are not only not 21st century but also hamstrung by being so definitive architecturally.

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  • Kevan Shaw

    I am very glad to see high quality late 20th C buildings being listed. I am a bit sad that the Grand Union House not being listed, the argument is specious. Would HE list a classical 19th house with later colonnaded wings being excepted from listing as not part of the original building? In architecture composition is everything, this is a bad call that will destroy the overall composition of this scheme

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