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Grimshaw’s Camden Town Sainsbury’s ‘under threat’ from redevelopment


A key element of Nicholas Grimshaw’s High-Tech Sainsbury’s Superstore complex in the heart of Camden Town is ‘under threat’ of redevelopment, according to heritage campaigners

The Royal Gold Medal-winning architect’s 1980s mixed-use project on Camden High Street includes a steel framed supermarket with underground car park, a warehouse building and a row of distinctive compact houses along Regent’s Canal.

But there are fears for its future after Camden Mixed Developments revealed plans to partially demolish Grand Union House, a workshop building fronting Kentish Town Road.

The proposals by architectural practice Andrew Phillips seek permission to strip back the existing building to first-floor slab level and rebuild from the first floor upwards to create a new office building with roof terrace.

At the southern end of the site, a former nursery school will be demolished and replaced with four-storey affordable-housing block with retail units at ground floor.

The Twentieth Century Society argues the demolition will ‘destroy the visual consistency’ across the elements of Grimshaw’s £14 million scheme and has submitted an application to Historic England for it to be Grade II listed.

It points out the façade facing Kentish Town Road uses the adaptable cladding system designed for Grimshaw’s Herman Miller distribution building in Chippenham.

Caseworker for the society Grace Etherington said: ‘It is our view that the complexity of the site is a key aspect of the design’s success, and it pinpoints this development as one of the first mixed-use supermarket sites in an urban environment.’

‘The London Borough of Camden’s insistence on a variety of uses within the site, Grimshaw’s use of new structural techniques in the supermarket building and the whole scheme’s striking aesthetic propelled the scheme to acclaim.

‘We consider it vital that this aesthetic is retained across the site to reflect the architect’s skill in adapting industrial design techniques to fit a range of building types and functions in a challenging setting.’

Grimshaw’s building has a raised first-floor podium level, with columns and metal sheeting at ground-floor level to shield the car parking behind and is used as a pedestrian cut-through to the supermarket from Kentish Town Road. 

However, documents sent to planners on behalf of the applicant argue the warehouse building is ‘dated, unattractive and has a neglected appearance’ with the area suffering from ‘relentless anti-social behaviour’.

Andrew Phillips’ design access statement reads: ‘The yard behind the building was designed to cater for and control vehicles only. It presents a hostile environment for pedestrians despite their natural need and desire to cross it to reach Camden Road.’

In 2015, one of the flats in the scheme’s residential element, Grand Union Walk, went on sale for £650,000.

Grimshaw was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal last September in recognition of his lifetime’s work, which includes his International Terminal at London’s Waterloo station and the Eden Project in Cornwall

Andrew Phillips has been approached for comment. 

Response from Grimshaw:

Neven Sidor, partner at Grimshaw said: ’The current application for Grand Union House destroys the integrity of what we achieved. The upper part of our Kentish Town Road elevation deploys the same language as the other three frontages of the scheme, and a huge amount of effort went into creating a bespoke cladding language that ties the three constituent parts of the development together. It is entirely possible to rejuvenate the existing cladding system and reapply it to the taller new structure while preserving the elegant horizontality it displays on its upper two levels; this would not impede the new row of cafes and shops below.

We have managed to breathe new life into our listed Herman Miller factory at Bath, converting it into an art school and adding a new storey in the process. It must be possible to do something similar here, and therefore we support the listing request and urge LB Camden to preserve the character of the existing site in any new developments. 



Readers' comments (2)

  • The best part of the Grmishaw scheme is staying (the supermarket) the building they are proposing to demolish makes for some terrible public realm facing onto Kentish Town Road without any ground floor frontages. The Sainsbury delivery vehicle entrance is also overly dominant. You haven't included any photos of the existing building on Kentish Town Road by the way? Slightly false reporting?

    This is a good move, well-done team.

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  • Chris Roche

    I am a big fan of Grimshaw's work in general, and this group of buildings in particular, not least as a regular user of the Supermarket over 20 years.
    There is however a need to address the Kentish Town Road frontage, which I suspect has contributed to anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, and knife attacks in the area. The concept of "defensible space", together with "passive over-looking" contributing to enhanced security of the public realm are issues that can and do need to be addressed in any review of this building. This is a societal issue, and this is not a criticism of the architect or the form of the building as originally conceived. Camden has changed dramatically since the time the building was conceived and public safety and security is now a critical issue locally.

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