The Brunswick centre on a sunny Saturday in October: there may be better places in the Capital, but they’re probably few and far between.
This may sound like a curious opinion. After all, this is a shopping centre that was created a couple of years ago out of a fairly monstrous piece of post-modern neo-brutalism of the kind that conjures up pictures of disaffected hoodie-wearing youths lurking in the shadows of buildings with advanced concrete rot.
And yet, since this horror was given a makeover and emerged from its chrysalis as a respectable example of regeneration, where high-street denizens toe the line of behaving like chains while acting like independents, this has been an entirely different proposition. It was warm in London at the weekend and the market stalls, hastily erected along the length of the Brunswick’s central open-air area, were buzzing with people paying a premium for eating freshly-cooked food in the mall’s surroundings.
The cafés and mid-price eateries that form a large number of the centre’s tenants were also busy with crowds sitting outside quaffing, scoffing and generally seeming happy with life.
And then there was Waitrose. This is the development’s anchor store, positioned at its extreme end, which can only be accessed by taking the short walk along the mall’s length. The store is a distinctly metropolitan act, and if ever proof were required that Waitrose is a middle-class phenomenon, this is it - its aisles filled with students, arty-looking media types and well-heeled Bloomsbury residents.
None of the distress shop, get in, get it, get out, demographic here. The store was filled with shoppers on mission food, perhaps unwilling to pay the prices demanded at Borough Market, a couple of miles away, but the same bunch nonetheless.
All in all, a very pleasant place to be, and it had as much to do with the attitude of the shoppers as with the good-looking shops and stalls. The Brunswick has managed to become an integral part of Bloomsbury, a trick that very few stores, much less shopping centres, manage to pull off.
Good store and, come to that, good mall design, is about rather more than creating spaces that look reasonable. They should also be places that add to the sum of the areas in which they are located and this may take a while to happen. Mostly, it doesn’t and designers, retailers and developers could do worse than to relax with a skinny latte on a sunny Saturday in the Brunswick and just see how it all works.