Foreign Office Architects’ design for a John Lewis store and cinema at Hammerson’s Highcross Quarter shopping centre in Leicester dramatically synthesizes the complexities of site and programme. Much of the drama depends on effective engineering strategies to provide various spans for the store atrium, auditorium, loading bay and to minimize vibration and sound transfer between the different parts. Entered by ascending an amphitheatre at one corner, the store’s interior is a cornucopia of goods, sensations and structural gymnastics, with several floors of seemingly structure-less glass walkways rising through an atrium, and the corner itself stretches the potential of the reinforced concrete frame. Its top-hung cladding reflects Leicester’s and John Lewis’ shared history in haberdashery, with two-layer panels of fritted glass and cut sheet metal to suggest lacework.
Other innovative structural elements are the foundations, woven between archaeology, and supporting a 26 m span cantilever housing a four storey high cinema over the service yard while balancing cost against flexibility. A 36 m footbridge designed to maximise transparency and minimise structure links the store to a new multi-storey car park, crossing quietly over the 6-lane ring road below.