Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Shop till you bop

Brent Cross in north west London was the first stand-alone shopping centre in Britain, opened as recently as 1976 by property company Hammerson on the site of a dog-racing stadium. The centre brought the prestige enclosed shopping experience to the suburbs, and was designed along strict American lines.

The layout was linear, emulating a high street. A big department store was placed at each end of the main thoroughfare or ‘mall’, as it was termed. Shoppers were forced to walk between the two, thus providing guaranteed custom for the smaller retail units passed on the way.

There were no clocks, and no windows or daylight other than in a few places within the two larger stores.

Instead, interest was provided by marble surfaces, cafés, planters, wooden animals for children to climb over and domed ceilings lined with thick coloured glass inserts at the points where main and branch malls met. The largest covered the main ‘square’, with its spectacular fountain, sunken water gardens and seating, was a triple-stepped design and used hues from the spectrum in concentric circles for a disco-style effect.

Sadly in opening up the malls to daylight, a 1995 refurbishment removed the glass domes and the fountain.

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Brent Cross interiors in the early 1990s. The water gardens were also lost in the refurbishment that followed, which installed a much smaller fountain that was itself swept away just a few years later.

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