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Shopping Building

A Grade II Listed Building in Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes

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Latitude: 52.0436 / 52°2'36"N

Longitude: -0.7554 / 0°45'19"W

OS Eastings: 485458

OS Northings: 239087

OS Grid: SP854390

Mapcode National: GBR D03.V5J

Mapcode Global: VHDT0.VWJR

Entry Name: Shopping Building

Listing Date: 16 July 2010

Last Amended: 9 January 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1393882

English Heritage Legacy ID: 503491

Location: Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes, MK9

County: Milton Keynes

Civil Parish: Central Milton Keynes

Built-Up Area: Milton Keynes

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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The Central Milton Keynes Shopping Building, the Milton Keynes new town's shopping centre; designed 1972-73, built 1975-79 by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation's Architect's Department under Derek Walker, design architects Stuart Mosscrop and Christopher Woodward, project manager Syd Green; FJ Samuely and Partners, Frank Newby, Mike Conacher consultant engineers. West End extended 1993-94 by PDD Architects.


Steel, glass, and internally travertine marble dominate.

Parallel 650m long glass and steel arcades provide the twin spines for flanking and linking walks and shops with anchor shops at east and west ends. There are two courts: covered Middleton Hall to the east and open-air Queen's Court to the west (this was converted to a food court in 2010).

The shopping Centre consists of a single very long block, designed in a Mies van de Rohe-inspired idiom, which stands in the centre of the town. Intended to serve as a 'high street' for this car-centred city, it stands beside a car park and is hemmed in by arterial and access roads. The steel frame sets up a rigid 6m and 12m grid. Great care was taken with both the finish of the steelwork which was produced by Boulton and Paul by a process called 'upward teeming' which gave a smooth surface, and with its erection for which very fine tolerances were set for alignments. The walls of the perimeter shopping centre and the pair of parallel ranges at the upper level are expressed externally as a glazed curtain whose external frame is filled with mirrored or clear glass set in neoprene gaskets. The building provides shopping facilities on a single storey, with stores and service areas for the shops above, and rooftop servicing and delivery facilities reached by a single raised road over the development, Secklow Gate. While the overall planning of the complex was successfully managed, the service facilities - such as heating and air-conditioning apparatus - are understandably much-modified and are not of special interest.

There are 18 entrances from a long car park cum service road set slightly below Silbury Boulevard and Midsummer Boulevard to north and south. These parallel entrances give on to the two long arcades and there are no steps anywhere within the building enabling access. The shops are divided into three bands served and separated by two 12m wide and 14m high weather-protected and naturally-lit pedestrian arcades (Midsummer and Silbury Arcades) which run the length of the building. The middle band of accommodation contains the department stores and two public squares, to the west an open square (Queen's Court) and to the east an internal market place (Middleton Hall) used for fairs and exhibitions. Queen's Court was adapted for use as a food court and re-opened as such in July 2010. The two main anchor stores are at the east and west ends: John Lewis projects proud to the east; The original west end of the building, Dickens and Jones (now House of Fraser), was reconstructed wholesale after an arson attack; Marks and Spencer is set in a western extension that was originally envisaged and actually added in 1993-94 by PDD Architects. This extension encroached on the City Square (originally conceived as a large public square featuring pavilions, flagpoles and public amenities) and was designed in the same materials as the original building, although the full-height glass shop front is of a predominantly vertical design, as opposed to the linear arrangement of the original building. This late-C20 addition is of lesser architectural interest yet it demonstrates the ability of the original concept to accommodate change and enlargement. The bands to the north and south house smaller shops which have frontages both to the internal arcades and to the building's perimeter. Linking the bands of shops are secondary and considerably lower pedestrian walks 12m wide run at 90m centres connecting Midsummer and Silbury Arcades to either side and giving access to the exits (the doors here are later additions).

The public squares and the arcades are the most important elements in design terms, having a clear and precise Miesian form which is unique for a shopping building. In addition to the clean lines created by the planting and seating the shop fronts are set back behind the line of the building grid and projecting signs are not permitted. The individual fit-outs to the shops are not generally of special interest, but they were originally conceived to a design guide which respects the dominance of the original frame and some retain stainless steel surrounds. Originally the building had no doors and it was intended that it should be a focus of Milton Keynes life outside shopping hours as well as during the day, but the building has been closed at night for some years. Deliveries are made in daylight, from the roof, which is reached by a single raised road over the development, Secklow Gate.

The large Midsummer Place extension to the south of Marks & Spencer cuts across Midsummer Boulevard but this is separated from the older building by a gap and is not included in the listing.

Overall the Shopping Building survives largely as originally built. The special interest is confined to the public aspects of the envelope of the shopping centre.

The many entrances give on to the two long and airy arcades, whose tall, glazed upper sections allow dramatic skyscapes to unfold. The volume and airiness of the large Middleton Hall contribute to the spatial interest of the interior, as well as providing an interesting multi-functional space. Throughout a pale brown travertine marble is used for floors and wall veneer, filled for the former and unfilled for the latter; in some areas this has been renewed by another kind of similarly-coloured limestone. Running down the two arcades are 47 narrow, rectangular, travertine planters with exotic planting including palm trees. Along the edge of the planters are long travertine bench seats. Some stainless steel seats and railings have subsequently been set in to these, and this metalwork is not of special interest. The internal small shop fronts are mostly later and not of special interest; however, where original finishes do survive, such as travertine stall-risers and fragmentary survival of stainless steel surrounds, these are of special interest (an audit of the shopfronts completed in 2011 shows that about seven shops retain their stainless steel, or chrome, surrounds and about five retain travertine upstands or other travertine entrance detail). Exposed stanchions with sloped feet (added in the 1990s to help repel rubbish and dust) contribute to the aesthetic as well as forming the structure. The outside (but internal) wall of John Lewis is faced up to about 4m with various shades of brown tiles that pick out 'John Lewis' in large blocky lettering; John Lewis also retains original stainless steel surrounds and travertine upstands to its interior shop front. The interiors of the shops, being subject to change, are not regarded as of special interest; this includes the windows and doors, which have in many instances been replaced.

The Shopping Building has a number of artworks. Of particular interest for its design and position is Liliane Lijn's Circle of Light, designed in 1977 and commissioned by Milton Keynes District Council in 1978 as part of its ambitious and successful public art programme. Suspended above Midsummer Arcade this takes the form of 23 armatures wound with copper wire - a reference to electric motors - hung to form a large copper disc 6m in diameter. Electric motors slowly rotate the individual rod-like armatures, and hanging like a great rising or setting sun it picks up on the arcade's alignment with the setting sun on Midsummer's Day.

Other artworks of special interest include: the market clock in Midsummer Arcade; 'Dream Flight', 'Flying Carpet' and 'High Flyer' (bronze figures) by Philomena Davis (1989), now located in Silbury Arcade; 'Vox Pop' (a group of cartoon-like bronze people) by John Clinch (1979) in Queen's Court (although not the original location within it); at the time of listing, 'Bollards and Sundial' (an outsize sundial with the solstice points marked), by Tim Minett (1979) was in storage awaiting reinstatement in the building; and a section of a C4 mosaic pavement from the nearby C4 Romano-British Bancroft Villa, mounted on a wall internally.


Bletchley was identified for development to take overspill from the south of Buckinghamshire and from London in the 1964 South East Regional Plan. Subsequently, in January 1967, the decision was taken to designate a larger new town which would envelope a number of existing towns and villages and be named after one of them, Milton Keynes. This was planned between 1968 and 1972 as a series of kilometre grid squares divided by roads and strips of parkland. While many of the residential grids evolved a post-modern idiom, or responded to the village character of existing buildings, for the two kilometre grid designated as the 'city centre' a very different system was imposed. It was to be a true 'downtown strip', an American-style grid comparable in size with London's W1 postal district, and lined with sleek, urban buildings of a Miesian character. In practice only the earliest commercial buildings designed by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation's architects fulfil this brief: Lloyds Court, Ashton and Norfolk Houses, and - most successfully - the Shopping Building. Originally sponsored by the Development Corporation with joint funding from the Post Office Pension Fund, in 1989 the building was sold to a consortium led by the latter's successors, Hermes, and the Dai-Ichi Bank.

The Shopping Building was conceived in reaction to the many Arndale Centres and other enclosed malls then being erected, such as Brent Cross (1976), and in particular to the American out-of-town malls such as Victor Gruen's Northlands, Detroit, and Southdale, Minneapolis. Instead, as Mosscrop has explained, the design team here studied the history of European shopping arcades. German source books demonstrated the evolution of the arcade from the first, eastern-inspired models which appeared in Paris in the 1790s, and through their expansion as iron-frame technology grew. Derek Walker (RIBA Journal, May 1979) likens the building to the Crystal Palace, which it resembles in size, and there is indeed some similarity in the use of transepts, set-back clerestories and an all-dominating grid. Mosscrop says that his aim was to make the building the centre of the city in the way the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (1865-67) dominates shopping and entertainment in Milan, though in plan it more closely resembles Cluysenaur's equally monumental Galleries St Hubert, Brussels, of 1846-47. Derek Walker's Architecture and Planning of Milton Keynes confirms the mix of late Mies van der Rohe (his Mannheim Theatre project particularly), and his use of exotic marbles, and C19 galleries. John Winter (Architectural Review, September 1980) compares its cool framework with that of Covent Garden Market, then recently refurbished and which it also somewhat resembles on plan. 'Here we have in built form the "highly serviced neutral technological frame" so beloved by students in the '50s, the recessive ordering structure which is yet strong enough to contain and control an ever-changing scenario within. It succeeds well, for the shops have their commercial fun and their coloured lights, but in no way ruffle the majestic calm of that long mirror-glass facade' (p.152). As a synthesis of Victorian iron technology, Miesian detailing and post-war notions of 'plug in' architectural grids, the Shopping Building works intellectually, and architecturally, on a series of levels.

The Shopping Building was of a scale unprecedented in Britain, and at 650m long, the largest covered arcade then built. The estate agents Healy and Baker helped draw up the brief and Woodward found out what retail firms wanted. Visiting Cumbernauld and Runcorn, he was shocked by the extent of mechanisation and services required to make such megastructures on the Gruen model work. The Shopping Building is very different. It stands at a relatively high point in the city, which counteracts its low height. The large and continuous clerestory glazing of the arcades makes this one of the few shopping centres where natural light dominates, an important feature. The original design of the city centre and its grid - and thus the shopping centre, which was integral to the plan - was informed by the play of natural light and the arcades are aligned so that on Midsummer Day, the sun sets along the arcades. Explicit reference to this concept is made in the names of the avenues and arcades of CMK: Avebury, Silbury, and Midsummer.

Reasons for Listing

Milton Keynes's Shopping Building of 1973-9, designed by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: a highly-regarded, little altered, 650-metre long steel and glass structure whose design was heavily influenced by the work of the leading early-mid C20 architect Mies van der Rohe; its rigour, consistency, luminosity and user-friendliness all denote its success as a new approach to retail design
* Exemplar: as the outstanding post-war retail development in England, successfully drawing on American inspirations but creating a singular shopping centre, realised on a monumental scale
* Materials: for the high quality and consistent deployment of materials and finishes, all executed to careful standards of finish
* Intactness: the public elements of the shopping centre are little-altered and retain the original appearance of the design
* Adaptability: the success of the complex lies in part in its ability to accommodate fast-changing retail stores while retaining its overall architectural integrity
* Artistic interest: for its public artworks, notably Liliane Lijn's Circle of Light, which endows this retail complex with prestige and meaning
* Town planning: as the purpose-built centrepiece of Britain's last, largest, and in planning terms most innovative new town, which created a retail space realised on a civic scale

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