Considerations for shopfront design in historic environments

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Considerations for shopfront design in historic environments

The most sustainable shopfront in the world already exists if you take into account the carbon cost of new developments.

Should we therefore be doing more to reuse existing buildings and their shopfronts in our ailing high streets?

Historic shopfronts lend a lot of character to our towns and cities and we should try to work with the historic fabric as closely as possible if we care about the carbon cost of new development. Original shopfronts are generally quite rare, with most having been altered dramatically or replaced over time as the needs of retailers have changed. Stores requiring more space and uniform branding have led to the removal of pilasters and the insertion of large plate glass frontages and oversized signs.

Poorly designed and insensitive shopfronts have a highly negative impact on the local character and contribute to the overall impression of a shopping area. One of the first negative impressions of a failing high street is usually the poor quality of shopfronts that often show signs of many years of neglect. Too often, characterful or historic buildings have been badly adapted over time with oversized glazing and cheap plastic fascias that are out of scale with the original architecture.

There is much to learn from the evolution and design of shopfronts through the Georgian and Victorian eras and through the early 20th century where functional requirements of displaying merchandise in an engaging way, weather protection, ventilation and lighting led to charming and beautiful designs that worked with the architecture rather than dominating it. Where historic shopfronts still exist such as Woburn Walk and Amwell Street in London and Victoria Quarter, Leeds, they have endured the test of time retaining their historic charm whilst catering for modern retailers.

Unless there are protected shopfronts on a listed building, there may not be a need to replicate exactly an historic shopfront, as this may not suit the needs of the modern tenant. Instead, contemporary designs that work with the architecture are completely valid if they respect the scale and proportions of the existing building and are constructed from quality materials and are well detailed. A number of recent retail insertions into former industrial or railway buildings such as St Pancras International and Coal Drops Yard, in London, demonstrate how successful working with historic structures can be with retail uses sensitively integrated to great commercial effect.

Revo’s Technical Affairs Committee has developed a new guide, Considerations for Shopfront Design in Historic Environments. The guide is intended for quick reference by developers, tenants and architects but should be read in conjunction with all the relevant statutory regulations and best practice design guidance.

The guide discusses three broad categories:

  • Authentic repair/reproduction
  • Sensitive insertion into existing building
  • Contemporary change of use in an historic building

If you are looking at the design or alteration of an existing or historic building as retail, this guide gives a concise checklist of items to consider as well as historical background and some precedent examples.

This guide is the latest instalment in our repurposing retail theme. If you missed the first paper then you can view it here: An Insight into Repurposing: Breathing New Life into Retail Assets, which takes a look at the technical considerations surrounding repurposing retail assets and presents a series of case studies showcasing the diverse forms of repurposing the retail property community have already undertaken.

The case studies include:
Centrepieces, Bexleyheath
The Department Store, Brixton
Kings Court, Covent Garden
Whitley’s regeneration

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