Raising the roof

The supermarket industry has made remarkable in-roads towards achieving the modern goal of environmental friendliness. While, as creators of huge amounts of packaging and waste, retail giants can hardly be classified as true friends of the environment, they have now at least achieved a degree of civility.

Greater warmth may be introduced to the relationship with the opening of a new “green” supermarket by Sainsbury’s: the store will also have a number of implications for the design of store interiors.

Created by architect Chetwood Associates, the store has been developed with the aim of reducing energy consumption by 50 per cent. The resulting structure, currently being built on London’s Greenwich Peninsula, has the futuristic looks of buildings from Gerry Anderson’s 1960s sci-fi show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

Natural resources will provide a lot of the light, heat and insulation necessary for a modern supermarket. Landscaped earth will cover much of the store exterior, helping to maintain constant interior temperatures, while a glass roof will cut down on lighting bills. The power that is needed for heating will be reclaimed from refrigeration systems, and passive air conditioning will be achieved via computer-controlled ventilation through the glass ceiling. The landscaped walls will be irrigated with rain water collected in the service yard.

The pipes, ducts and wires concealed by suspended ceilings in most supermarkets will be placed under the floor, where they are better located for heating. The glass roof also means there is nowhere to hang the lights. Instead, natural illumination will be augmented with shelf-mounted units, which are better for targeting individual displays than traditional ceiling-mounted structures. This should mean joint benefits: the lights used will need less power, and they will provide interesting opportunities for product promotion.

When opened later this year, the store will feature the new Sainsbury’s identity created by 20/20 Design and Strategy, plus interiors by design group Amalgam. How these will adapt to the “no-ceiling style” could provide some clues as to the direction other supermarkets will take in the future.

For Sainsbury’s, the development of the store is seen as a major public relations opportunity after the battering the chain has received at the hands of the business press of late. But the venture will probably have further implications – if rival chains don’t follow suit by improving their own environmental credentials they run the risk of being accused of not caring enough about fluffy bunnies and seal cubs.

Twenty years ago that wouldn’t have mattered much. Nowadays, even for a grocer, it would probably be commercial suicide.

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