Shop, eat, pray – Jean Nouvel puts the ‘cheap’ back into Cheapside…

The picture above is the best shot of Cheapside’s new piece of architecture – Jean Nouvel comes to the City of London with an extraordinary building, that most banal of typologies – yes, its a shopping centre! Three shopping/eating storeys, one of them below ground, with a section open to the sky – looking back to its somewhat ..err… classier? older? astonished?… neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.

Interior Shops

Called ‘One New Change’ as it fronts both that street and ‘Cheapside’ which is far more relevant (but maybe not as sexy). We are frequently reminded by the PR machine that ‘cheap’ was Olde Englishe for ‘market’ and Cheapside was once filled with market stalls and shops….. so this is really just re-establishing an historical precedent, though with H&M and Topshop located on the Cheapside side of the building there’s a not very subliminal message to shoppers going on.

New Change Edge

The New Change elevation – facing the rear of St Paul’s – enlivens a previously dull street and the central access/axis breaks up the building form enough for the ‘stealth’ elevation treatment to not seem too overt. But……that brown stuff??? What was Nouvel thinking? And what was Peter Rees (City Planning Officer) thinking buying into it? Well, the BD review claims the colours reflect materials previously used on the site – since the previous building was deemed demolishable and nobody can check, this sounds like clutching at straws to me. I’m sorry, but its a crap colour, its unlike anything else nearby (mostly cream stone or render), and most suggests 70s shoes. Will we learn to love it? Hmm….

Crouching Form

This is the ‘stealth bomber’ view. If the intention was to have the building ‘disappear’ then the brown glass does exactly the opposite, whereas a grey would have faded into the sky – my apologies for accidentally catching a bit of blue sky there, unusual stuff. This shows a more threatening presence, and it certainly could have landed from Mars or Alpha Centauri – cheaper sweatshops than China maybe..?

Cheapside Edge

You can’t move much in the City without the odd church tower framing or back-dropping the view – Bow Church above defining the Cheapside elevation looking away from St Paul’s. The glazed cladding to the 5 floors of offices above the shopping centre definitely in contrast to the existing buildings opposite. No problem with that in principle, but there’s that brown again… There will no doubt be the usual architectural claims about the building have a ‘dialogue’ with its neighbours – this means ‘we ignored them completely’ and maybe thats ok, there’s enough going on in the street anyway, but it would be more interesting to be honest about it.

St Pauls from the Lift

The clever bits of this building are: the layout – a criss-cross of routes through the site making a stroll past the shops genuinely incidental to casual pedestrian movement – the partial openness – this section is open to the sky and to the dome of St Paul’s, as is the central lift well, ensuring that rain, snow and the general fabulousness of London weather comes right into the core of the building – the floor finish – which is (? seems to be..) simple York stone continuing the surrounding footpath and public space into and through the shopping area.

View of the Sky

The view looking up – couldn’t get that blue bit to come back unfortunately – but it is real sky. No air conditioning then, so the ‘mall’ has sustainability credentials in that it is largely covered or open small lanes, as the area would have been once, almost treated as though they are public streets. But not quite…. the covered ‘lanes’ of the mall, although they are fairly short, feel very much as though they are standard internal shopping centre spaces – a form of ‘tradition’ in its own way I guess!

St Pauls and Canopy

The south elevation looking west including entry canopy. Well, the whole development is a really good excuse to find new ways to photograph Wren’s lovely old pile…

South Elevation

…and here’s the same elevation looking the other way… The faceting is interesting but seems arbitrarily used, changing this smaller face but not used along the north elevation.

So, how does this new insertion into the City urban landscape fare overall? It is probably impossible to have designed something for this location that would please the architectural pundits, its unabashed (while claiming serious ‘bashed’-ness!) and highly mannered modernism is a relief from nearby Paternoster Square’s kneebending to Prince Charles (all that fussy decoration), and its improvements to connectivity, street edge and public realm treatment earns pluses in the urban design department, but oops, check out the massive loading dock in Bread St, opposite ‘Le Pain Quotidien’ – I’d bargain the rent down if I were them…

Its easy to challenge a shopping centre in such a hallowed location, but as an inhabitant of the nearby East End I have to admit to being pleased to find somewhere to shop nearby that means I don’t have to trek into Oxford St, and it caters for grown-ups (along with the ‘cheap’ bits!), and is open weekends….. BUT , no Zara and no French Connection? Must Do Better to really get points in the shopping stakes…

Now we’re just awaiting the opening of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant on the rooftop – just for the views of St Paul’s you understand…



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