Coal Drops Yard, Lon­don

In an era of ‘click to buy’, it takes some­thing ex­cit­ing to tempt shop­pers out onto the streets. Coal Drops Yard, Lon­don’s new­est retail hotspot, is it

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents -

In an era of ‘click to buy’, it takes some­thing ex­cit­ing to tempt shop­pers. This new retail hotspot is it

When you step into Lon­don’s Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, you’re greeted with a rather won­der­ful sight. Against a back­drop of Vic­to­rian cast-iron gash­old­ers – which now con­tain high-spec apart­ments – emerge two curved roofs, meet­ing in the mid­dle of the build­ings they cover, as if pulled to­gether by an in­vis­i­ble force.

The force is that of ar­chi­tect and de­signer Thomas Heather­wick ( be­low right), and his stu­dio, which has wo­ven its con­tem­po­rary style into the ex­ist­ing fabric of the prop­er­ties. The two mod­ernised coal drop struc­tures reach out and touch each other af­ter 168 years of sep­a­ra­tion, cov­er­ing a cen­tral area around which sits a cu­rated edit of shops – from iconic brands to emerg­ing names – as well as en­tic­ing restau­rants, cafés and bars.

‘My stu­dio has been based in King’s Cross for nearly 20 years and I’ve lived here for al­most 17 – re­gen­er­at­ing this lo­ca­tion was an enor­mous re­spon­si­bil­ity,’ Heather­wick says. With the ini­tial brief en­vis­ag­ing some­thing more akin to a shop­ping mall, the dis­cus­sion then turned to the idea of bridges to con­nect the build­ings. ‘ We had these two sticks like bro­ken Kitkat fin­gers that didn’t nec­es­sar­ily have any cen­tral­ity,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘The chal­lenge was to cre­ate a heart that would glue ev­ery­thing to­gether.’

The buzz phrase here is ‘in­dus­trial lux­ury’. The re­de­vel­op­ment of King’s Cross is in its 18th year, led by de­vel­oper Ar­gent, which is trans­form­ing the 67 acres ( big enough to war­rant a new post­code: N1C) into a hip hotspot, with a bill so far to­talling £3 bil­lion.

Built in 1851 and 1860, the orig­i­nal coal drops struc­tures were the end of the line for the ex­panse of rail­way that had just started spread­ing across the coun­try – trains car­ry­ing coal from the north

of Eng­land would be driven into the up­per level of the build­ings, drop­ping their cargo to ground level where it would be col­lected and de­liv­ered by horse and cart across the cap­i­tal. ‘There’s a magic in these build­ings,’ says Heather­wick. ‘ You’ve got to hand it to the Vic­to­ri­ans – this is their ver­sion of an Ikea ware­house.’

Fall­ing into dis­re­pair af­ter be­ing used for stor­ing goods from the late 1800s, the site be­came home to leg­endary night­clubs Ba­gley’s and The Cross, pop­u­lar venues for ravers of the 1990s – traces of the clubs’ brightly painted in­te­rior bricks have been pre­served on the new site. A big chunk of the east­ern coal drop had been burned out, mean­ing that the roof needed to be re­placed. It was this ne­ces­sity that prompted the idea of us­ing the roof it­self to form a cen­tral el­e­ment, as well as adding a third level.

With the east­ern coal drop the same length as St Paul’s Cathe­dral, this was a colos­sal project. ‘ We put the equiv­a­lent of a sta­dium roof onto the ex­ist­ing build­ings,’ says Mor­wenna Hall, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and di­rec­tor at Ar­gent, who has over­seen the project for the past seven years. The team in­serted col­umns through the build­ings to sup­port the weight of the en­larged roof, which was cov­ered with 80,000 Welsh slate tiles, taken from the same quarry the orig­i­nals were sourced from in the 1850s. Left­handed slaters were em­ployed es­pe­cially to do one half of it. ‘It’s been a re­ally unique project – hun­dreds of peo­ple have con­trib­uted, and the ar­ti­sanal work has been ex­tra­or­di­nary,’ con­tin­ues Hall.

‘Coal Drops Yard is about en­rich­ing, de­light­ing and unit­ing,’ ex­plains Craig White, se­nior project di­rec­tor at Ar­gent. ‘It’s not about con­sump­tion, it’s about of­fer­ing a lovely ex­pe­ri­ence.’ The team met more than 1,200 brands in its bid to cre­ate an in­no­va­tive shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, and the re­sult is a joy­ous mix of old favourites and new dis­cov­er­ies, the lux­ury as well as the af­ford­able.

Lower Sta­ble Street, sit­u­ated off the main yard, will house 11 smaller stores with shorter leases, and stu­dents from neigh­bour­ing Cen­tral Saint Martins will be en­cour­aged to host pop-ups there. ‘It’s an in­cu­ba­tor for young busi­nesses,’ says Fred­erique Jung­man, se­nior project man­ager at Ar­gent. The start­ing line-up in­cludes Hon­est Jon’s record store and fash­ion la­bel Ally Capellino.

Far from be­ing a ster­ile, en­closed shop­ping cen­tre, the pro­gres­sive ar­chi­tec­ture of Coal Drops Yard is a sight to be­hold, a bona fide new shop­ping district with a unique of­fer­ing – the com­bi­na­tion of which is surely the fu­ture of retail. ‘Our in­ter­est was in mak­ing an amaz­ing space – to us the shop­ping was sim­ply an ex­cuse for that place to ex­ist,’ ad­mits Heather­wick. ‘It’s re­ally the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence that is the crit­i­cal thing – to be with your fel­low hu­mans is now more pre­cious than ever’ (coal­drop­


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