The stunning building that is shopping centre One New Change has brought retail therapy to the City’s masses. John Ryan pays a visit

Imagine a place where almost everybody earns an above-average salary, where disposable income tends to be above the norm and where most people get in to work early. In the UK, this particular combination of factors is probably only found in one place: the City.

The City of London is home to 350,000 workers, most of who arrive from beyond its boundaries on a daily basis. It has a total of 6.3 million visitors annually and there are about 10,000 permanent residents in the area. This should sound like a dream if you are a retailer and an opportunity to have tills ringing almost incessantly.

And yet until a couple of weeks ago, the City was remarkable for the paucity of its retail offer. There were plenty of mid-market and upscale shirt shops, there was a large branch of Marks & Spencer, a department store in the shape of House of Fraser and a pretty good TK Maxx that opened recently. But the lack of a genuine high street where shoppers could browse a collection of mid-market offers was glaringly obvious.

Working theory

All of this may provide a large clue as to why developer Land Securities opted to create One New Change, a mixed-use office and retail scheme in Cheapside, the City’s traditional high street. It opened on October 28 and in the first day’s trading many of UK retailing’s great and good descending upon the area to bless the glass and steel structure designed by French ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel.

The reason they came was because this was rather more than the opening of a new shopping centre, it is the first time that London’s financial district has had a coherent offer and there is much riding upon its success - not least the fortunes of the retailers that have chosen to call it home. One New Change is absolutely a development for those working in the area. There is no parking to speak of, meaning that it exists to cater for the early morning and lunchtime outpourings from financial institutions that seemingly fill every square foot of the streets that surround the mall.

From the outside, the first impression is glass and more glass. This may be about three floors and 58 new shops (a total of 220,000 sq ft of retail space), with multiple office floors above it, but from various perspectives, you might be hard pushed to realise this.

According to Land Securities, when Jean Nouvel won the competition to design the scheme, his avowed intent was not to compromise views of St Paul’s Cathedral, which is seemingly visible wherever you are in the centre. This is done by using devices including cutting planes through the central space and providing high shine,

mirror-like stainless steel walls that provide reflections of the building that for many serves as a form of shorthand for this area of the capital.

The point about Nouvel’s structure, however, is the external glass walls, formed by panels fitted together to create the complex. There are 6,500 of these and each is unique to its place within the structure. This makes it a fantastically complex building and there are times as you walk through its three retail levels when you lose track of where you are, which level you are on and, to an extent, whether you are inside or outside and, more often than not, St Paul’s looms over everything.

Adam Rawls, managing director of design consultancy Rawls and the man responsible for ensuring retail tenants at One New Change followed a set of design guidelines, says that the centre is about difference: “The point about the whole thing was that it should be different from what was around it.” One of the rules that underpinned this was that tenants weren’t allowed to “Turn their back on St Paul’s”, architecturally. The outcome is that wherever possible, stores face the cathedral.

And the tenants are pretty much all mid-market with some of the more interesting propositions coming from new international and UK names, as well as UK high street standards. Springfield, an offshoot of Spanish department store chain Cortefiel, appears as a standalone shop for the first time in London while closer to home Bea’s of Bloomsbury looks like a designer vision of cupcake selling.

Surprises in store

Externally, there are some standards, with the new Banana Republic store looking pretty much like the other two in London, and then there are some totally gobsmacking newcomers.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the butcher shop that accompanies the Jamie Oliver restaurant that is due to open imminently. The butcher is billed by Land Securities as a “homage to meat” and even a cursory glance through the double-height glass windows proves that this is the case.

In fairness, those who have travelled to Sydney may recognise the provenance of this one, which looks to have been heavily influenced by an upscale butcher’s store in the New South Wales capital called Victor Churchill. The One New Change version features the same overhead conveyor belt with entire cattle ribcages and there are other familiar Victor Churchill tropes. But this is new to the UK and is about showing meat in all its glory, or misery if you are of a vegetarian bent.

Topshop, All Saints (complete with the requisite window-full of sewing machines and the many different light fixtures within), a new format Dune store and TM Lewin are just a few of the names that bring mid-market credibility to this part of London. And in many ways, taken as a whole these are highly familiar iterations of familiar formats. But the point is that there has been nothing like this in the City until now and One New Change will certainly have an effect on the number of workers in the area who find that parts of their weekends are spent shopping owing to the fact that there is nothing near their workplace.

The major point, however, is the building itself. This has been two years in the making, is technically an astonishing feat and somehow, in spite of its ultra-modern looks, manages to blend in with the Cityscape. One New Change is a centre for City folk at all levels, from fashion conscious Topshop types to those with an eye on the boardroom, who will probably find what they need in the large Hugo Boss on the northern exterior of the mall.

And even the word mall doesn’t really do justice to this one - it is, but there again, it’s really a piece of architectural theatre. On day one, it was

predictably thronged, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the dust settles. Meanwhile, beat a path in a month or two when the lifts open that will take weary shoppers up to a series of restaurants on the roof. Even if the food disappoints, and it probably won’t, this has to be one of the prime views in the whole of London.

One New Change, London

Location The City

Elements Three floors of retail and five floors of offices above this

Cost of the scheme £540m

Opened October 28

Retail highlight The building

Architect Jean Nouvel

Big question Why are the centre’s ‘core’ opening hours 10am-7pm when most City workers are at their desks by 8.30am?