Bluewater may be the last of the mammoth out-of-town shopping centres, but its classy interiors set new standards for smaller, town-centre malls across the UK.
Gargantuan out-of-town shopping centres, the retail phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s, have gone out with something of a bang. Bluewater, set in a disused chalk quarry at Dartford, north Kent, opened last month as the last and largest of these centres. The government now frowns on such projects for despoiling the countryside and creating traffic.

Yet, as developed by the Australian Lend Lease Corporation and designed by American architect Eric Kuhne and British firm Benoy, Bluewater has succeeded over its 154 000 m2 of floor space in raising the art of shopping centre design to a new high. Architectural standards have been set that can be applied to more compact and environment-friendly urban projects – as well as to the upgrading of existing centres.

Many of Bluewater's interior design innovations are replicable:

  • Generous quantities of daylight, space, fresh air and even sunlight are poured into both levels of the wide, two-storey malls. Barrel-vaulted roofs are divided into an attractive series of shallow domes with scalloped skylights and central cupolas beneath cowls that open for natural ventilation.

  • High-quality natural finishes to the malls include inlaid polished marble floors.

  • A panoply of civic art inspired by local themes embellishes the malls, although in places this verges on Disneyland kitsch.

  • The shopping centre environment is not entirely internal and artificial. Cafés and restaurants spill out through conservatories and French windows on to sheltered, external terraces.

  • Although the 320 outlets include the usual multiple chains with clashing, garish shopfronts, the developer encouraged retailers to push the boat out on shop design. A team of interior designers was on hand to help them make the most of their premises.