Joe Roberts from Roberts Limbrick on the rebirth of the High Street
By Joe Roberts
Once beloved town centres used to be a hive of activity and ringing tills, but can now resemble ghost towns as shoppers head out of town or online for their retail fix.
How does the High Street evolve to fit the needs of the 21st century and remain relevant?
Joe Roberts, director of Gloucester architects Roberts Limbrick believes that the future of the High Street is already upon us - and that something positive is already happening.
Empty buildings are turning our towns into something from the zombie apocalypse.
But there is cause for optimism.
The retail sector is hitting back, slowly, with innovation. Some are moving out of physical retail others are moving in.
We are seeing other uses start to emerge (or re-emerge) on the high street, as retail spatial requirements change and space becomes available.
It is reinventing this space where his profession sees real potential and believes there is great opportunity for everyone.
For us, architecture is the art and science of making sure our cities and buildings fit with the way we want to live.
We also believe at our core we have to be optimists
Online also continues to adapt - with varying degrees of success, from drone deliveries to the more successful click and collect, blurring the lines between the internet and high street.
Retail trends are ever changing, that we are already adapting to our new environment and, importantly, some of our towns and cities are creating something new and exciting.
Some of those reinventions of our buildings hit hardest by the recent changes are already making high streets social hubs again.
Leisure and residential are sweeping into areas which were once purely retail. Lines are blurring as new possibilities are explored.
House of Vans in London is a space not just where you can buy the latest of the American street shoes but enjoy art, music, fashion, cinema, café culture, live music venue, and even skate.
There is an increase of 'brand playgrounds' like NikeFuel Station at Boxpark in East London with its treadmills, motion-sensor digital walls and interactive mirrors.
And there is an increase in affordable town centre living as people return to live here not just young professionals, but larger homes for families. Townhouses make a comeback.
There is an emerging focus on placemaking to create unique identities for town centres focusing on local strengths, history and culture.
Workplaces are emerging too - in the form of inner-city business parks, educational establishments and large businesses returning to the centres of our towns and cities bringing new energy.
Which is giving food service and entertainment options to expand and diversify. Towns are showing they can become more vibrant, dynamic, inclusive, safe, meeting and interaction places.
In Cheltenham, If Cavendish House were to become vacant how might it be transformed?
Cavendish House poses a huge challenge, but also a fantastic opportunity.
It is a large complex store over multiple levels unlikely to remain suitable for retail in the future, but it holds a prominent location along the Promenade and is well connected to surrounding streets.
You could retain ground floor retail facing out onto The Prom, high profile with good footfall, reducing the unit sizes to allow for smaller 'experience stores', divided flexibly to allow for changing requirements.
On the upper floors, you could create rooftop living, converting the space to larger duplex apartments providing affordable living accommodation... with fantastic views. The rooftop 'gardens' providing biodiversity and 'safe' family recreational spaces.
There are similar sites, in New York there are the Via Verde Apartments and Roof Gardens, London's Moberly Apartments and Roof Gardens, and clever conversions such as Providence Mall, Rhode Island.
Here, we have SLG's offices at The Brewery as an example closer to home of how to reinvent a workplace.
The rebirth of our high streets is already upon us - it is up to us to make the most of the opportunities it brings.
To find out more about Gloucester architetcts Roberts Limbrick visit www.robertslimbrick.com or telephone 03333 405 500.
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