Ashford Designer Retail Outlets

Ashford Designer Retail Outlets - occupation

The proliferation of out-of-town retail developments on the American model is a contentious issue in Britain and in Europe generally. This retail development at Ashford reverses the trend, occupying a prime piece of brownfield land - a former railway and engineering site - adjacent to a major public transport hub, Ashford’s International Station, with connections to the Channel Tunnel and London.

In architectural terms too, the development is innovative, eschewing the monumental and inflexible character of many recent retail schemes. Instead the single storey retail units shelter beneath a 30,000 m² high-tensile fabric roof, one kilometre in length and supported on 24 bright orange steel masts. The centre can accommodate 3,000 visitors at any one time (there are parking spaces for 1,400 cars) and includes a food court, tourist information centre and exhibition space. The design allows for future flexibility - the retail outlets can be easily relocated and reconfigured as required.

The distinctive tent structure is festive in spirit, unites the centre and announces itself proudly within the 30-acre site. It is undulating in form, rising to high points whose vertical masts act as counterpoints to the horizontal nature of the development and local topology. It wraps around the edge of the leaf-shaped plan and joins the northern end of the site.

Servicing to the retail outlet centre is accessed by a road at the rear of the retail units, which is concealed from view by the three metre-high landscaped embankment. This embankment gently slopes up to the eaves-line of the retail units providing a compositional springboard for the tented structure. To the outsider, an impression of self-containment and privacy is given for what is, in reality, an ever-changing public space.

The 12 hectare site is located adjacent to Ashford International Rail Station, providing connections to destinations all over Europe. The structure appears as a tented encampment on the landscape and is designed to sit low on the site in order to reduce the visual impact of the building in a relatively flat setting.

Within a clear and unified organisational structure, the individual retail units are capable of a high degree of flexibility and can respond rapidly to changing retail demands and space requirements.

The layering and colour-coding of the primary architectural and service elements make the centre a highly useable and enjoyable place for both shoppers and employees.