Designing places where people want to be, by James Cons

Leslie Jones has worked with intu since 1997 and our enduring relationship and the inherent understanding between us is a relationship that relies as much on trust and professional friendships as it does on design flare and capabilities.

We’ve collaborated on several high-profile projects including the Queens Gardens development at intu Bromley, the refurbishment of the intu Victoria Centre in Nottingham and the redevelopment of intu Eldon Square in Newcastle. We’ve also worked with intu on refurbishing the Boardwalk at intu Lakeside. Over the last twenty something years we’ve accomplished a lot together and have recently celebrated the completion and opening of intu Watford’s 400,000 sq ft extension.

Leslie Jones first started work on the feasibility to redevelop the Charter Place site as an extension to the existing centre; this inclusion would enable it to deliver an even more compelling experience for customers with more retail, leisure and catering to attract more footfall from surrounding areas.

Work on developing the scheme began in 2013 with planning approval granted in February 2014. Both intu and Leslie Jones have worked closely with Watford Borough Council’s planning department on the design to ensure the scheme supported the council’s aspirations for Watford. As a result, the council has been very supportive of the development and the benefits it will bring to the town.

Once the extensive demolition was completed, the contract for the main construction works was awarded to Laing O’Rourke to deliver the 30-month programme culminating in the centre opening in September 2018. Our role throughout this phase was to act as client architect to monitor the design and construction works and work in partnership with Laing O-Rourke to ensure that the result matched expectations. If you’ve seen our artists impression and the new site, I think you’ll agree that it does!

The architecture of the extension varies depending on the location. The new central atrium formed by the construction of the cinema and leisure buildings incorporates modern materials such as aluminium cladding and glazed curtain walling, glass reinforced concrete cladding and frameless glass balustrades onto which the new Debenhams department store and other retailers face. The space was complemented by the addition of an impressive free-spanning glass canopy to protect shoppers from the weather and create a light and airy space. This space connects directly to the upper and lower malls of the existing scheme to create a seamless flow of footfall.

Watford High Street itself includes many different building styles and so we took inspiration for the design of the new restaurant units from those surrounding them in both form and materiality.

Façades constructed from natural materials such as brick and stone, designed in a contemporary manner but with elements of traditional design incorporated, including pitched and Dutch gable parapets. Brickwork was chosen to complement one another in grey, red and sections of glazed blue as well. All facades were given depth to the construction with large window reveals to convey a sense of solidity in keeping with the traditional sections of the street. Feature lighting also plays a significant role adding further interest at night and to highlight the design features.

An image showing the intu Watford extension shortly after its opening Autumn 2018

As part of the High Street works, the existing listed façade of the former Lloyds Bank building was retained and completely refurbished to remove the many layers of paint to expose the original material. Once repairs were completed we redecorated and refurbished existing windows . New timber windows and doors were added at street level to complete the transformation.

As with many projects of this scale there are always challenges and this project required the refurbishment of the existing multi-storey car park to serve the extension and significant structural modifications to the lower levels of the car park building. Our works also coincided with the refurbishment of the public realm by Watford Borough Council and allowed co-ordination of the designs to create a single harmonious streetscape and entrance into the new development which demonstrates the importance of good working relationships with all parties involved.

Alongside the main development we also designed the interior architecture to refresh the existing malls. The refresh works were completed at the same time as the extension to create a more contemporary aesthetic throughout the whole centre and bring in elements of design from the extension. The design included new terrazzo flooring, remodelling of the existing balustrades, new ceilings and lighting throughout and backlit stretch fabric wall coverings to the mall atriums.

This was a project that involved so many various element, it was a true team effort and one that I am proud to say we were a part of.