12 January 2012

What Next for Sainsbury’s Greenwich?

Sainsbury’s have announced that they intend to close their pioneering low energy store in Greenwich just twelve years after it was opened by a very young Jamie Oliver.  Having led the team responsible for this project I am sad that it will no longer be used for its original purpose, but intrigued as to what the future will hold for the building and what lessons can be learned from its demise.

Sainsubury's Millennium Store

When Sainsbury’s Greenwich opened in the autumn of 1999 it was heralded by Sainsbury’s Chief Executive Dino Adrino who said,

“This store represents a watershed in supermarket architecture. We will learn from the energy saving features of this remarkable store and consider where we can use them again.”

The building won a host of accolades including the RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000 and was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.  Within the first year of trading it achieved the highest Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) score of any Sainsbury’s in the country, demonstrating that shoppers appreciated the natural lighting and innovative displacement heating and cooling strategy; conceived specifically to improve customer comfort and encourage increased customer dwell time.

So why after such a short period of time are Sainsbury’s moving on?  Well, I guess that the simple answer is that they have outgrown the building; their proposed replacement is almost three times the size and will sell a much larger range of non-food items as well as providing a base for online shopping.  Thing move fast in the field of “supermarketing”, it’s not that long ago that the same company were reducing the size of their Savacentre hypermarkets, subletting space to other retailers.

Is bigger really better for the customer?  Do you really want to buy clothes, electrical goods and other consumer durables when doing your food shop?  How do you reconcile creating a great customer environment for such a diverse range of products and is it really a good use of valuable urban land to locate the distribution hub for internet shopping within a store, when this use would traditionally be located in a low cost shed on industrial land?

So what will the future hold for Sainsbury’s Greenwich?  You would have thought that its logical future would be to provide a new home for another food store operator.  Maybe someone like Whole Foods Market who specialise in “high quality and organic products”?  Unfortunately not; you see when supermarkets sell stores they place a restrictive covenant on the building preventing it being used as a supermarket.  Not very sustainable; unless of course you are a shareholder.  Surely the community should decide, through the usual planning process, if the best reuse of the building would be by a competitor.  Is that not how the free market is supposed to work?

What about a covered market, offering small local producers to come together and in combination offer the convenience that supermarkets offer with the added advantage of supporting local businesses coupled with reduced food miles.  Here in Waterloo we are fortunate to have a store called Greensmiths who operate on this business model and the range, quality and choice is first class.  Now that really would be “localism” in action!

Unfortunately the most likely outcome is that the building will be demolished and the land redeveloped.  If this is the outcome then it will send a telling message about how supermarkets view their buildings and will stand as a powerful indictment of their collective claims of sustainability.


  1. Anonymous21.4.12

    Tony, Yes, the pace is such that the wider retail industry gives little serious attention to not only energy consumption but material waste. Having worked for the supermarket industry and for their architects, it’s clear that dictatorial value for money and fierce competition dominate the industries interest. The wasteful cycle of build, demolish, extend, refit and re-branding of stores for brand perception & modernisation, overrides the gains of “token” efforts in sustainability as seen in flagship stores such as Greenwich. Tesco’s has just realised it’s behind the ball and is about to re-boot by modernisation, improving retail experience and its brand perception. So as you mention the retail sector moves towards becoming a product experience at leisure. The speed at which brands update themselves inline with their products & style will mean an even shorter life cycle in its architecture and especially for interior design. How short will this cycle ultimately become? A new look store with every Ipad release? Maybe the sustainability of the retail sector should focus on material waste & lifespan, biodegradation & recyclability, if “energy efficient” buildings are to be condemned to the skip in less than 10years, and every few years for retail interiors.

    1. Anonymous30.5.13

      How relevant tall of the above is to the article which is being published in this week's 'Building' magazine (31/05/13) - an interview with Dean Clegg who is the new development director for Sainsbury's. It was the bit at the end of the article which poses the question - "How Green is Sainsbury's?" which reminded me of the proposal to demolish the green Greenwich supermarket after 12 years and replace with a new one 400 metres away. I only half recalled the story - your excellent blog. tells it so much better!

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