Vision, dedication and £350M have transformed the wasteland of a worked out chalk quarry into one of Europe's foremost regional shopping and leisure centres. Delivered on the dot and fully occupied the day it opened, Bluewater sets a new quality benchmark.
Visiting Bluewater was something of a shock for the BCIA judges. Expecting to be confronted by the shedscape of yet another out of town shopping centre, and one built in a derelict chalk quarry, they discovered a retail and leisure development that sets sophisticated new standards for the UK.
Huge amounts of capital were sunk into Bluewater during a hectic 35- month construction period when up to 6,000 operatives were employed. A significant proportion of the money spent has gone into a landscaping scheme that emphasises the amphitheatre setting -the chalk cliffs have been turned into an asset and attractive lakes have been incorporated to emphasise rather than disguise the distinctive setting.
Reconstituted stone panels and split concrete blocks have been widely used to blend the external works with their surroundings.
Extensive research into the aspirations of retailers and their customers shaped Bluewater. No retailer likes to be located at a dead end or tucked away in a forgotten corner of a mall. The response by the client Lend Lease and its principal designer Eric Kuhne Associates was to lay out Bluewater as a triangle of three arcades joined at the nodes by huge entrances cum circulation cum leisure areas. It put every shop and cafe frontage on a main street.
Research also showed that shoppers dislike both gloomy confined multi- storey car parks and open air lots with bushes, because of the perceived risk of being mugged. As a result Bluewater has large-span well-lit covered car parks and in the open ones only expensive mature trees were planted.
Substantial investment has gone into the public areas in the way of artworks and diverting features which earn no revenue but differentiate Bluewater from its rivals.
The highest standards of construction safety and quality were set and achieved.
When design work began in 1994 the opening date was set as March 1999. Bluewater opened on time on 16 March, to budget and with every shop and premises let - the best possible testimonial to the fervour of its owner, designers and builders.
'Widely considered Europe's finest shopping centre, Bluewater is also a major urban regeneration project involving the local community. Skills, training and job creation played an important role in its creation. Extensive research contributed to the quality of design and construction and to the commercial success already achieved.'
Lend Lease Europe
Principal designer, architectural concept
Eric Kuhne & Associates
Brooker Flynn Architects
Brettell Jackson & Associates