Sainsbury’s, Bugsby’s Way, Greenwich Peninsula

Sainsbury’s, Bugsby’s Way, Greenwich Peninsula

As the “caring ‘90s” drew to a close and the eco-theme went mainstream, Sainsbury’s responded to the movement through its products and – in the case of its Greenwich superstore – architecture.

Construction of the 5110m2 store on the Greenwich peninsula was completed in late ’99 by local practise Chetwood Associates (with the Derek Lovejoy Partnership responsible for landscaping) and it was built entirely from sustainable materials. The store was 50% more eco-friendly than a traditional supermarket at the time.

Approaching the building, which looks like a shiny aluminium-clad spaceship perched on two grass feet, it’s immediately apparent that this is no ordinary Sainsbury’s: wind turbines, recycled hardcore gabion walls, electric car charging points and solar panels all stand out. This really is an upmarket supermarket for the 21st century.

It’s hardly surprising that the building won the accolades of Sainsbury’s CEO who called it “a watershed in architecture” and RIBA (it bagged the Sustainability Award). It was even nominated for the Stirling Prize. Shoppers agreed, too, citing it as the best Sainsbury’s in the country in 2000.

So, why – less than 15 years later – is a glossy new building which was designed to be upgradeable about to be demolished? The answer, of course, is commerce: Sainsbury’s is moving down the road and IKEA is taking its place. Sainsbury’s is selling the land with the covenant that it cannot be used for another food store, so the building everyone worked so hard to make sustainable has become quite the opposite.

This huge waste of time, talent and resources will go largely unnoticed but take a minute to think of the effort that went in to creating a future-proof supermarket. The impending demolition remains yet another testament to the wastage the now goes unnoticed in London and how promises of care towards the environment are merely used as marketing terms. The irony is that the demolition contractor will promise to be just as ‘eco friendly’ in their disposal of the supermarket’s materials.

Sainsbury’s has a reputation for buildings with short life-spans: another example is their Exeter store which – also well-liked by the community – lasted a mere 13 years before it was flattened (and replaced with a not substantially different retail building).

So here’s to the last days of Chetwood’s supermarket of the future.

Ryan Dunlop