Mid-sized towns across the UK mourn that ‘the demise of Debenhams leaves not just holes in 124 high streets, but a hole in the heart, too’, according to an article in The Guardian earlier this year. This is certainly true for the 80,000 sq ft Debenhams on Northampton’s high street.
Our concept proposes a sustainable refurbishment to renew the sense of pride in the town and avoid leaving behind architectural ‘junk-space’ on the high street.
As the new heart of the local high street, the ‘Northampton Exchange’ transforms the former Debenhams department store into a place where people can exchange skills and local produce, and share food and conviviality.
This is a place for people of all ages to gather, with a focus on retaining local knowledge through upskilling the next generation. It will be an exciting social meeting point as well as an experiential retail platform for local businesses celebrating the century-old local tradition of leather-craft and shoemaking in Northampton.
Spatially, the Northampton Exchange draws the high street into the building. It provides an amphitheatre for events, rooms for workshops and classes, and a mix of concession retail space.
It brings together local craftspeople and shoppers in an experiential environment
The existing fabric benefits from a large, circular atrium cut into the floorplates. Vertical views and new theatrical staircases draw audiences into and upwards through the building. The ramped galleries lead up to the new rooftop venue and garden space overlooking the town.
The programming of the space picks up key behavioural changes in our social interaction and shopping preferences.
As a lively third place for the community, it brings together local craftspeople and shoppers in an experiential environment.
The former logistical core will be repurposed as a carbon-friendly last-mile delivery hub.
This proposal is designed to maximise social impact and sustainable refurbishment in line with contemporary behavioural patterns. It plugs the hole in the heart and the high street of Northampton.
The great design challenge: the department store reborn
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The great design challenge: Orms & Beispiel