Bluewater, one of the largest shopping malls in the United Kingdom, is located about 20 miles from London. Though the placement of parking there is similar to a typical mall – surface parking surrounding the main mall building – the parking is otherwise quite different. Bluewater’s parking was designed as part of formal gardens with orchards, flowers, and lakes. Towering chalk cliffs, which remain from the site’s former use as a quarry, have been integrated into the landscape. Bike paths and walkways connect the parking lots and open space. Bluewater has “a parking landscape, where the lawns, lakes, and foliage are carefully meshed with the required acres of tarmac to accommodate cars,” writes Eran Ben-Joseph in Rethinking A Lot.
Bluewater was designed by CivicArts/Eric R. Kuhne & Associates. I asked architect Eric Kuhne to elaborate on his design philosophy for Bluewater in an August 2012 interview.
Bluewater has been described as an inspiring place and an enjoyable experience – much more than a shopping center. How does the design of Bluewater’s parking contribute positively to visitors’ experiences?
Eric Kuhne: The Bluewater car parks were designed as urban orchards based on the reputation of Kent County as the Garden of England and one of the highest fruit producing counties in the UK. We achieved over one tree for every two spaces, covering nearly 6,000 spaces, and heavily landscaped verges surrounding each surface lot. Trees selected were chosen to enfront the three primary entrances: pear trees, apple trees, and cherry trees. Spring is initiated as the blossom festival at Bluewater, heralding the end of winter; the entire 240-acre chalk quarry where Bluewater was built is awash with blossoms in the air and all over the ground. People use the trees as ‘wayfinding.’ In time, Bluewater’s parking orchards will become a solid canopy of trees concealing the cars under shade and showcasing the eccentric architecture above the treetops (this is like looking at Whitehall from Green Park in Central London). The sheer scale of Bluewater’s 2 million square feet required an overt design consciousness to identify the large acreage as unique.
The parking lot at the Dia:Beacon Museum in Beacon, NY, was designed to function as the lobby of the museum. Did you apply a similar philosophy in your design for Bluewater?
Kuhne: The great avenues of Humphry Repton and Capability Brown, England’s most prodigious landscape architects, and Andre Le Notre, France’s landscape genius, set up the form of the landscape in front of Bluewater. The architecture was designed like five great estate homes. The landscape had a central boulevard of trees aligned with these commanding facades. Orchard parking lots spread out on each side, like the agrarian countryside framed the estate homes. Grand boulevards lead the guests to the main entrances at the department stores: chestnut trees to John Lewis Department Store; lime (linden) trees to Marks & Spencer Department Store; and English Oak to House of Fraser.
At Bluewater, the malls are surrounded by a landscape of lakes and parkland. How does the parking lot function as part of the landscape?
Kuhne: We collected engravings of all the great estate homes in Kent. Lakes, gardens, avenues of trees, orchards, fields, and hedgerows all form geometric patterns on the land. Bluewater drew its inspiration for the surrounding land from these great garden and agrarian estates.
Bluewater was built in 1999 and today is more successful than ever. In an article about Bluewater, the property manager notes, “Everything was built to a very high standard, which is part of the reason why it still looks so good.” How do the parking lot and landscaping contribute to Bluewater’s “enduring quality”?
Kuhne: Thirteen years on, the landscape is better than ever. Given another dozen years, Bluewater’s “parks” (pun intended) will be as much a feature of its beauty as our eccentric architecture. We designed Bluewater to look like a modern archaeological dig, as if it were chiseled out of the very chalk of the quarry itself to reveal a lost garden estate in the Garden of England.
Bluewater has been praised for its innovative design. What do you see as the innovations of the future in terms of parking?
Kuhne: Increasingly, we are placing more and more parking underground with parks atop the parking. We are landscaping the roofs of parking decks as gardens. We did a 2030 Master Plan for Bluewater that replaced all the surface parking lots with homes, offices, and leisure facilities in perimeter blocks (square donut-shaped blocks with courtyards in the heart of each); all the parking was bunched up as decks inside these blocks; and all had gardens atop the parking decks for the families, workers, and guests to use, secure from the visitors. Under this plan, Bluewater would be transformed from a retail centre to a town centre surrounded by over 9,000 residences and office space for 7,000 workers. The avenues, boulevards, and landscape of the civic realm would all remain, while the surface lots would become more urbane.
Bluewater sonnet, written by Eric R. Kuhne on July 17, 1996:
Spirit of BLUEWATER
White chalk cliffs and water blue
Surround a crystal city new:
Parks beneath a blossom’s shade,
Stately stores end treed parades;
Pinnacle roofs tease a turning sky
Where welcome halls greet a pilgrim’s life
and host a market’s pageantry.
Handkerchief domes float atop displays,
Fresh with air through grand arcades.
Water circuses perform a nightly fayre
For wintergarden and town square
Where criers echo cross this land:
“Build this dream with forthright hands
and hearts that beat with industry.”