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Would the loss of Sainsbury’s eco-store be a blow for sustainability?

This Opinion piece was originally published in BD:Online, 14th March 2014

In 1999 the industry rallied to ensure that it was Stirling Prize nominated and for good reason. It was the most energy-efficient supermarket building we have ever seen and its form was representative of its ethos: huddled into to the ground between grass banks and timber facades, close to the earth. It was sustainable architecture and it carried that aesthetic.

It was an OK place to shop, but I no longer shop in supermarkets. Not due to concerns about the environment or corporate-food production — although these are important issues — it simply doesn’t suit my lifestyle anymore.

My local shops are full of customers who buy fresh food close to home and cook it straight away. This practice has strong cultural precedents, minimises waste, makes shopping more pleasurable and contributes to a re-emerging high street that is beginning to thrive again. Good for urbanism, the local economy and for the environment.

There is a view among those who practice sustainable design that we can only make an impact through the rigid application of process-driven architecture. This is a modernist approach: constructing hyper-functional buildings precisely to program.

But programs change and so do users. Hinkin designed a building that looked and behaved just as a sustainable building should. Ironically this is why it could never be so.

Reuse is now the cutting-edge of sustainable architectural practice, in its application to both the adaptation of old buildings and the future planning of new ones. For all the intentional worth of the Greenwich store, it now sends the wrong message. The building cannot restrict the use.

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