Does London’s Coal Drops Yard Redefine Mall Culture?
London shopping development Coal Drops Yard, which opens in late October and is located just north of King’s Cross station, seeks to recalibrate what a modern mall can be. It’s an ambitious collective of 60 retailers combining artisanal and progressive brands with iconic names that aim to define the zeitgeist and apply new soft-sell retail strategies.
Malls are having a tough time – in the US alone, one out of every four will have closed by 2022 (Time, 2017). Coal Drops Yard prefers not to call itself a mall: the 100,000 sq ft precinct presents itself as the antithesis of traditional malls’ tendency to parachute into outlying city spaces.
Based in an historic space with low-key branding, the development merges shopping, dining, leisure and culture under one umbrella and has a light-touch approach to the overall project, with tenants given plenty of latitude regarding how to look or behave. It sits at the heart of a wider urban renewal exercise that merges homes, offices, public space and education.
Bespoke architecture by British firm Heatherwick Studio references the site’s Victorian-era industrial past. A 20,000 sq ft spaceship-like gabled space (the future home of Samsung’s first London flagship) sits at the apex of the development, connecting two long brick viaducts. Within the cobbled arches, the project houses off-radar artisanal and progressive independents such as eyewear brand Cubitts and streetwear retailers 18Montrose (both British), placed alongside better-known names such as Paul Smith and Tom Dixon.
Katie Baron, Stylus’ head of Retail, notes that Coal Drops Yard is creating a retail incubator where iconic brands can dance alongside emerging talent. “There’s a desire to bring a degree of inclusivity into the mix,” she says. “It’s a shrewd, hi-low interpretation of retail based on the acknowledgement that shoppers rarely stick to any kind of easily categorisable swim lane now.”