Jane Embury looks at post-pandemic regeneration
As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s the construction sector that will help us to build back better.
The sector comprises more than 300,000 companies, employs over two million people and contributes over 8% of the nation’s Gross Value Added (GVA).
But the sector’s importance goes far beyond mere economics. It’s about meeting 21st century aspirations and reviving down-at-heel neighbourhoods. That is at the heart of building for a changed world.
And changed it is with retail sales migrating online and more of us working from home, for at least part of the week.
In many ways, building back better involves the retail sector, enticing shoppers back to town and city centres. The sector is crucial to urban vibrancy.
The retail sector absolutely matters. For example, the Centre for Retail Research says that last year there were over 5,000 shop closures and well over 100,000 employees affected.
But the fact is that we like shopping in a physical store. We may research and compare products online, but we also still want to go the high street.
Post Covid-19, the retail sector will have to change. Shoppers want to feel safe in an environment that is spacious and well-ventilated.
That’s where the construction sector will have a big part to play, refurbishing the retail sector for changed customer expectations.
It’s something that Wrightstyle has been associated with for many years, as architects increasingly use large spans of glass to illuminate their shopping interiors.
Uniquely, glass blurs the divide between interior spaces and the exterior world – allowing natural light to flood in to create inspirational interiors. Importantly, it gives a sense of space.
A stunning example is Langholm Place in Hong Kong, a HK $3.1 billion development that is being hailed as a milestone in urban renewal.
Built some ten years ago, it includes a 53-storey office tower, a 5-star hotel with 665 bedrooms and rooftop swimming pool. It also has a 600,000 sq ft shopping mall with 300 shops. That’s roughly the same number as in London’s Oxford Street.
At the top of the shopping centre, reached via one of the world’s largest unsupported escalators, is the Ozone, complete with an indoor waterfall and – another unique feature – a Digital Sky.
This enormous rooftop screen spans the entire length of the ceiling and broadcasts continuous overhead visuals, and which attracts large crowds to celebrate festive events.
The stringent fire safety specification for the project, which has three towers from 13 to 53 storeys. It has two link bridges between the retail and hotel areas, covered several international standards. These included British Standards (BS) for fire resistance, American (ASTM) for mechanical strength and German (DIN) standards for material qualities.
Our systems protect vital walkways between the main building and the shopping area. They also had to accommodate large unsupported spans of glazing and still comply with the high wind load criteria.
Just as important they create a sense of space and protection.
Closer to home is Ocean Terminal, on the seafront at Leith, Edinburgh’s port. This shopping centre is also host to the Royal Yacht Britannia.
It’s also therefore an international attraction as well as Scotland’s third largest shopping centre.
The 440,000 square foot complex, which cost £120 million, was part of the overall regeneration of Leith.
Like its Hong Kong counterpart, the redevelopment of Leith has also transformed a red light district into an attractive leisure, residential and retail area. It’s also created thousands of jobs.
Once again, glass was fundamental to the design concept, incorporating a frontage that is one of the UK’s largest free-spans of curtain walling.
The overall glazed span at Ocean Terminal is over 16 metres in height. Each piece of glass accommodated within the system weighs a massive 450 kg. In total, our system covers 1130 square metres of façade.
A third project with which we were associated is Midsummer Place, a £170 million project in Milton Keynes that covers 450,000 sq ft.
It involved us supplying over 500 sq metres of curtain walling, creating an open, welcoming and multi-functional interior space.
It also underlines how modern curtain walling can offer both fire protection with majestically large and expansive glazed vision areas.
We supplied two fire screens to divide the first floor and car park from the main shopping mall. Measuring more than 100 metres in length the fire screen is believed to be one of the longest of its type in the country.
We’ve also been involved in many other projects, both here and internationally – for example in Athens and Beirut.
We need a new kind of retail to bring shoppers back to the high street. The next normal for the retail sector will be to create space, or the illusion of space.
We’ve also taken that fire protection a step further. Most fire-safety glazing systems only provide protection from a high-risk to a low-risk area.
But fire, dangerous and unpredictable, can break out anywhere, including in low-risk areas.
The test, with the exterior surface facing into the furnace, delivered 148 minutes of integrity and insulation. Most importantly, that its fire protection is dual directional.
The next normal for the retail sector will be to create space spaces in which people feel safe. For example, using clever interior design to maximise display areas. Interior design will also create subtle barriers to prevent crowding.
That means rethinking internal spaces, and building a new kind of retail environment. A legacy of Covid-19 is that we will no longer feel comfortable in smaller and crowded enclosed spaces.
We’ll be part of that process of redesign because our glazing systems allow light to flood through internal spaces.
Our latest fire test is our guarantee that our systems, complete and tested, will contain fire and only allow light to spread.
Photo: Ocean Terminal