‘How can we make something that isn’t like a shopping mall?’ Thomas Heatherwick asked himself when turning London’s Coal Drops Yard into a new retail hub – opening tomorrow. ‘Our interest is in the social chemistry of the buildings. Shopping is just an excuse for being there.’
Coal Drops Yard is the last slice of Victorian-era King’s Cross to undergo adaptive reuse, following the gasholders’ conversion into flats and The Granary building’s transformation into a home for Central Saint Martins. The twin brick structures were built in the mid-19th-century to handle the eight million tonnes of coal deposited in the capital each year.
Heatherwick Studio has preserved the original buildings while marrying their ‘kitkat-shaped’ forms – which 1980s ravers will remember as home to Bagley’s nightclub and The Cross – with new, sweeping roof structures. These cantilever beyond the original buildings, meeting in the middle of the courtyard.
‘Our challenge was to create a heart that would glue everything together,’ says the designer. Hence the ‘kissing’ rooftops, which carve out voluminous event space on the new third floor. ‘We wanted to increase intensity of the buildings, while creating unusual spaces where retailers have to do things they simply wouldn’t do elsewhere.’
Coal Drops Yard now offers 100,000 sq ft of new public space, including 50 stores, restaurants and cafés, in varying sized lots. Among the brands included are Stockholm-based Hem, Christopher Raeburn and American Vintage.