UK Retail: Successful urban regeneration - The pursuit of experience

UK Retail: Urban regeneration: The pursuit of experience

In this article, leading international urban design and masterplanning expert, Adrian Griffiths, discusses the key elements that need to be brought together to create successful UK urban regeneration projects.

Architects, surprisingly, may not be your first choice to design the urban environments of the future. After seven years of study, whilst many have learnt how to design a building or series of “spaces”, these can tend to be restricted to a style either inherited from the tutors or adopted as being “where things are at” currently. Egos, ready to explode onto the architectural world, may lead to stylised schemes which quickly lose their vibrancy as time progresses.

Of course, as an architectural practice, we are not decrying the profession. Our great cities, having evolved over time, are made up of many worthy buildings with their own unique styles.

Perhaps you would consider urban designers who, by contrast, learn to create environments through an understanding of streets, spaces and connections without getting distracted by the architectural image. But one might suggest that they too fall short in possessing sufficient knowledge of how to deliver a project of such magnitude and with all the building blocks in place to create a lasting legacy.

Blending of architectural disciplines is a necessity

A solution perhaps, is in the blending of both professions, which would go a long way to enabling the creation of a successful urban environment that truly integrates with its setting. This, whilst acknowledging the architectural timelessness required across the development to provide the vibrancy, warmth and texture our cities deserve.

However, to deliver a truly successful active urban environment, we would suggest that two more skill sets are required to add to that of architect and urban designer:

  • The skill to appreciate and understand how the various uses should be combined to allow a vibrant and exciting, active and commercially realisable layout to be generated
  • A specialist who understands the brand and is best placed to offer advice on how a space can become “experiential” without becoming “pastiche” or “clichéd”. Combined, these four skill sets would be a force to be reckoned with.

Rather than a mono style, varied architectural styles create character in a scheme

The challenge is to learn from history by looking at and studying the world’s great cities, all of which, having evolved over time and being designed by many hands and circumstances, become, through use, timeless, unique, exciting and experiential. Egos come and go, yet it is time itself which has the wisdom to allow good and bad to develop simultaneously knowing that mankind naturally levitate towards that which is right.

One could challenge the likes of Dubai or Milton Keynes. One perhaps promoting a knee-jerk reaction to rapid wealth creating taller and taller buildings fighting cheek-by-jowl with their neighbours with little sense of history or character. The other imposing an urban concept from a different culture into a city and expecting it to work. Both scenarios have massive ramifications to the area and the sustainability of “experience” going forward.

If we look at some of the shopping destinations in the world seen as being “most successful”, such as Dubai Mall in Dubai, Global Harbour in Shanghai, China, White City in London, Makati Greenbelt Mall in the Phillipines or even Bicester Village in rural Bicester, all have used a myriad of styles of architecture to help set the scene and create the experience.

Other centres, like the New Century Global Center in Chengdu, China, Ashford Designer Outlet Centre in Ashford or Centre MK, Milton Keynes, generally have one design solution applied across the whole development. A debate must exist where a single solution can be compared to one with more variation.  

​Retail and leisure sit at the heart of our social communities and these uses play a key part as a catalyst for regeneration.

Successful urban environments don’t just happen, they are created

Successful urban environments must be tenant mixed from the outset, further skills that the architect and urban designer need to possess. In particular, these are:

·  The ability to appreciate and understand how the various uses should be combined to deliver a vibrant and exciting experience to ensure commercial success.

·  The ability to understand the urban environments ‘brand’ we are to create as this needs to be evident within the schemes we design.

The importance of creating the experience and sense of place

There is much to learn from history by studying the world’s great cities to evaluate why these places offered such a wonderful experience. 200 years ago, the high street was a vibrant trading and social centre which has been undermined over time by the arrival of the department store, supermarket, out of town retail and the internet to name but a few. Even the arrival of the “fridge” took away the need for farmers to sell their fresh goods from a market stall on a daily basis. When the fair and circus came to town, they filled the streets and squares with activity contributing to the all-round experience.

I am critical of places from Dubai to Milton Keynes where a knee-jerk reaction to rapid development has taken place with little thought given to creating a sense of place.

Whilst retail and leisure destinations around the world respond to their particular culture, context and climate, most require the same ingredients. The retail environment is changing and in many respects we are moving back to where the high street historically used to be. We are seeing some department stores down-sizing or even shutting down with the displaced brands relocating back to the high street into their own building that is designed to represent their brand. The same is true of the supermarket with an increase in demand for the local basket shop allowing people to buy what they want on the day they want it. There is also the return of the market stalls popping up and selling fresh niche produce, complementing what is already available.

In terms of leisure, the concept of entertaining at home is in decline with the preference of the millennials to spend their disposable income on an experience and eating out. The food and beverage market now provides for a much wider cultural offer and complements the day out experience which may also include for a trip to the cinema or an extreme sports adventure.

We must recognise this change in customer expectations and design our environments accordingly. These activities will not happen unless they are planned for from the outset. 

Creating a strong brand and identity matters if schemes are to be successful

Some world-leading companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Westfield, Apple, Nike, BMW and Disney, to name a few, specialise in the field of delivering an experience. This “experiential” approach is the keystone in all their branding, advertising and building projects. Indeed, to be successful, the “message” from these companies weave through everything that they present to the outside world. It is this ability to weave a story successfully from start to finish that one needs to understand to be able to create the experience within regeneration projects.

Taking one extreme, Disney are arguably the market leaders in the design of theme parks, one of the most successful destinations and formats in the world. When mentioning the name Disney and in particular, Disneyworld, we should not automatically think about architectural style, but the successful masterplanning of the activities that make these destinations work.

Designing the shopping centre experience starts with a clear understanding of the brand and the proposed mix of uses that work with and support the brand and its promotion of the retail offer. There has never been a time like today where the ability to change is of such importance as to allow our environments to adapt on a daily base to keep pace with the modern world.

A variety of uses creates an 'experience'

For many years, developers were single-use focussed, but now most understand other complimentary uses are required to ensure a more rounded offer. A town or city-centre destination could include for retail, restaurants, community uses, culture, workplace, residential, hotels, the arts, museums etc, the list goes on. Most importantly however, is that to deliver the experience, the masterplanner must also be able to suggest a workable tenant mix to ensure they work together in harmony, creating that memorable experience to be enjoyed. To ensure brand, commerciality, character and vibrancy are all seamlessly interwoven.

Chapman Taylor excels in this department for a number of key reasons. Firstly, we blend both the skills of architecture and urban design with the knowledge of how to deliver the experience without the constraints of working to a fixed architectural style and principle. Secondly, our experience in helping to deliver the larger developments of today takes heed of the fact that these schemes are often phased, unlike our city centres.

Being in control of the masterplanning, tenant mix and urban environment, having a keen awareness of brand identity and lastly, being able to create a variety of architectural styles appropriate for their culture and context, has enabled Chapman Taylor to become world leaders in the design and delivery of major projects. These offer viable mixed use solutions with a memorable experience to be visited again and again. The mark of a successful development that will stand the test of time.


Adrian Griffiths

About the author

Adrian Griffiths

LLP Board Director
BA (Hons) Dip Arch RIBA MA Urban Design FRSA


Adrian Griffiths, is recognised internationally for his expertise in the blending of architecture and urban design.

Adrian’s authority is recognised by various industry bodies and in particular by the British Council of Shopping Centres as a member of the Awards jury and the Royal Society of Artists.  He speaks at leading conferences promoting the benefits of urban renewal and mixed-use developments as key drivers of city and town centre economic regeneration.

With over 25 years of international experience, he has designed many landmark projects and environments with the most recent notable examples including Whitefriars Canterbury, Princesshay Exeter, Cabot Circus Bristol and Trinity Leeds. Current high profile masterplanning projects include proposals for a 60 hectare site known as Liverpool Waters and Brent Cross London.

Within the practice, Adrian takes the lead on new retail initiatives and directs the UK feasibility team.

Get in touch

About the Author

ADRIAN GRIFFITHS (荣誉学士学位 建筑学文凭 英国皇家建筑师学会会员,城市设计硕士,皇家艺术协会会员)

合伙人, UK

艾德里安1986年加入查普门泰勒,并于1998年升任董事会董事。作为所有者之一,他与其他董事会成员一道决定公司发展战略,积极推动公司发展。他是英国境内设计项目的领导人,同时积极担任伦敦和布里斯托事务所的管理工作。 作为拥有30年丰富经验的建筑师、城市规划师,艾德里安将二者技巧完美融合,在业内享有声誉


Adrian entra a far parte di Chapman Taylor nel 1986 e si unisce al Main Board nel 1998. Come architetto e specialista in progettazione urbanistica, è conosciuto a livello internazionale per la sua esperienza nei masterplan di grandi complessi multi-funzionali, che sono i principali autori nella rigenerazione dei nostri centri urbani.

Adrian è consapevole del fatto che le zone di sviluppo urbano che oggi costruiamo creano le società di domani, riconoscendo la responsabilità che la professione ha nell'influenzare la qualità della vita delle persone. Adrian partecipa abitualmente a conferenze e scrive articoli che promuovono i benefici degli spazi multifunzionali come modello sostenibile a lungo termine. Adrian guida il Concept Design Team nel Regno Unito.

Aree di competenza:

Urban design /  Masterplanning /  Mixed use / Retail / Leisure

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