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Marion Dillon of ICON at the 02 on building an outlet centre inside a design icon

The ICON Outlet at the 02 has little choice but to make a virtue of its design: the centre is located inside a London design icon.

Built inside the 02 – designed by Richard Rogers as the Millennium Dome, and commissioned by a government determined to party like it was 1999 – the ICON wraps around the music venue now located in the centre of the giant tent on the Greenwich Peninsula.

The distinctive yellow pylons that hold up the structure are clearly evident in the public areas of the ICON, and they pass directly through a number of the stores too.

“They land in about four of the stores. Architecture is at the heart of both the public element of the scheme and the stores themselves,” says Marion Dillon, leasing director at the centre for Crosstree Real Estate Partners/AEG Europe, which developed the ICON at the 02.

The developer decided that, given the distinctive surroundings, individual retailers should be encouraged to go the extra mile with their stores – something that is not always permitted in outlet centres.

Marion Dillon
Marion Dillon

“With the shopfronts themselves… a lot of outlet malls tend to be quite restrictive. We’ve encouraged them to stretch and be creative,” says Dillon. She describes the days where retailers would arrive at outlet centres content to use the white boxes provided by developers as long gone, with brand equity a more important consideration than creating the impression of savings that are being passed on to shoppers: “For a lot of brands it’s the first touchpoint for new customers.”

Many of the store have risen to the challenge with their interiors too. The Ted Baker store, for example, is themed around music in a nod to the adjacent concert venue: the payment area looks like a mixing desk, and VM displays feature collections of old cassettes and music memorabilia. Shoe brand Cheaney, meanwhile, has brought an upmarket look to its first take on an outlet store.

The other difference to rival outlet centres that Dillon emphasises is ICON’s accessibility by public transport. The Millennium celebrations saw significant upgrades to public transport on the Greenwich peninsula, including a new Jubilee Line tube station that is next door to the 02.

“The big difference is our accessibility to younger customers,” says Dillon, emphasising declining levels of car ownership, especially among young, urban consumers. She predicts that more than 70 per cent of shopper will arrive at the 02 by public transport.

That mode of travel has informed the kind of tenants at the centre. There are no furniture or homewares stores at the 02, which instead focuses on fashion and sportswear, with a selection of restaurants also due to in its second phase.

Architect Callison RTKL developed the design of the outlet centre, dealing with a number of technical challenges. The tent structure of the 02 means that the shopping centre is technically an outdoor building - and so needs to meet regulations for wind loads and thermal efficiency that any other store would be subject to, without interfering with the original dome.

The adjacency of the Jubilee Line and the Blackwall Tunnel - a ventilation shaft for which emerges through the 02 – adds further complexity.

“It’s not a traditional internal mall environment,” says Callison RTKL senior associate director Nathmya Saffarini. The majority of the stores at the ICON are on its upper level, reached by a grand staircase and escalator next to the entrance to the 02 Arena. This curves around to another atrium, leading down to a performance area and to the second phase of the development, which will soon contain a number of restaurants and large sportswear stores.

The architect developed two different ceiling treatments for these areas, guiding shoppers through the spaces with a ribbed ceiling treatment that attracts the eye and gives an impression of daylight filtering through, even in sections which have little natural light.

In an era when adaptability is a watchword for store designers keen to react to every changing consumer demand, it could seem appropriate that a building created to celebrate a new millennium has been adapted to house a new outlet centre. If it is successful, shoppers may find more repurposed attractions tempting them to visit.

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