Landmarks: Sainsbury Canterbury

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The Independent Culture
In choosing the Sainsbury's Building in Canterbury I have to say that while I like the building, I think it is in the wrong site. It is very sculptural in form, and would be lovely on a green-field site, but it does not actually work juxtaposed to the city centre and the cathedral, surrounded as it is by a sea of cars and a main road.

It was built as a competition winner by the architects Ahrends, Burton and Koralek in 1984. The building is clad in ceramic tiles, with a steel-framed, tent-like structure and is painted silver: the effect is quite stunning. It is beautifully detailed with a suspended fabric canopy along the elevation towards the main entrance. The architects were trying to produce a 'visual echo' of the pinnacles of the cathedral but that has not quite come off. Everybody knows it; whether people like it or not it is a landmark.

It works very well as a shop, it has a completely clear span internally with no divisions or columns, but I think if it were put up for planning permision today it would not succeed.

Canterbury suffered enormously just after the war. The city centre was virtually blitzed and they built a huge number of post Festival of Britain-type buildings which were universally hated - they were ghastly. So a lot of them have been replaced in the city centre by mock-Tudor buildings which the public infinitely prefer to what was there originally.

There is certainly no hope that in the centre of Canterbury we could have anything as modern again. That is regrettable, as we should always aim to look forward in architecture.

Anthony de Moubray studied at the University of Kent and has been a partner with Lee Evans de Moubray for 12 years

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