Sainsbury’s Superstore, Plymouth

The style of the building is directly related to the unique nature of the site. Located at the head of the Plym Estuary, the site is visible from a distance as the A38 comes over the brow of the hill approaching Plymouth from the east. The motorway is then elevated over the existing roundabout adjacent to the site, giving a second prominent view of the location of the building and its relationship to the surrounding landscape. The south edge of the site is bounded by the main railway line from London to Plymouth. Viewed from motorway, local roads and main railway line, the site has an unusual degree of prominence and serves as an opportunity to create a “gateway” to the city of Plymouth.

The part of a shopping centre project that occupies the most site, and which is therefore particularly visible when viewed from above, is the car park. The design of the project centres on the idea that a car park could be a romantic landscape proposal, an outdoor “room” with a strong architectural identity. The form is a grand semi-circle lined by oak trees on the curved side and on the straight side, by an arcaded walkway clad on one side in stainless steel with dramatic overlapping sails.

This arcade canopy is the largest object on the site and the special element of the design that is visible from a distance when approaching Plymouth along the motorway. It is constructed of semi-translucent fabric stretched over an armature of fine structural members curved to evoke the billowing sails associated with the history of Plymouth. During the day the whiteness of the sail fabric is silhouetted against Efford Fort Hill. At night the fabric glows, providing a powerful sculptural effect when seen from a distance.

The superstore itself is treated as a restrained and simple brick building. The site is depressed into the ground 4 metres below the approach road from Plymouth and gives the building as little prominence as possible, leaving the evocative shapes of the sails as the main expression of the project. These are clearly visible over the superstore building, the roof of which appears to be at eye level when coming from the Plymouth direction.

The curve of the oak trees and the strong shapes of the overlapping sails give the car park an immediate and interesting landscape character when seen from the roundabout. Again, the main bulk of the building disappears behind these primary landscape features.

The gross area of the building is 79,200 sq.ft; the sales area is 40,000 sq.ft. There are 613 customer car parking spaces with an additional 89 spaces for staff. The size of the site is 10.5 acres.