CADA Design brings a taste of Japan to Westfield White City

Amid all the development for Westfield phase 2, CADA design creates Ichiba, a food hall and supermarket for the Japan Centre

Words by Ellen Peirson
Images by Steven Joyce

In this corner of London, among the BBC Television Centre-turned-flats and expansive Westfield shopping centre, change is constant. Recognised as a key regeneration area in Central London, White City is in the midst of a renewal project to provide more than 5,000 new homes, 19 000 jobs, 186,000 sq m of commercial space and 30 acres of public space. Residential and commercial developments emerge seemingly overnight, as the face of White City changes rapidly to become primarily a place of commerce. Westfield White City first opened in 2008, and then opened phase 2 this March, making it the largest commercial centre in and Europe.

Amid this rapidly changing context, within the catalytic Westfield Phase 2, sits a design that manages to create an environment of its own. Unique from the wave of ‘vanilla’ that washes any such place within a quick transformative development – one where the character of a place becomes unrecognisable, and the eccentricity nearly eradicated. The new Japanese food hall and supermarket Ichiba brings the traditional sights, flavours and products of Japan all the way to White City. Ichiba embeds this image into the public realm, announcing itself in the terraced entrance adjacent to the main entrance to Phase 2, as it waits patiently for further food and beverage shop fronts to join it.

A second entrance to the shopping centre has been very beneficial to IchibaA second entrance to the shopping centre has been very beneficial to Ichiba

This entrance was not anticipated to be the main customer flow point. But the complexities of a changing context become evident here, as access to and from the station changed and development popped up, footfall increased. In its design, CADA Design was able to subdue this overcrowded entrance by providing a cut through, dispersing customers through the secondary access point inside the complex. Mutually beneficial, the new access route draws customers through Ichiba, as well as providing Westfield with a calmer main entrance.

A thorough research visit to Japan has ensured the authentic Japanese feel to IchibaA thorough research visit to Japan has ensured the authentic Japanese feel to Ichiba

Approaching this entrance, customers are greeted by traditional Japanese Noren curtains. These fabric dividers were originally used by shops and restaurants in Japan to protect them from the elements, later becoming a space to display branding and signify an entrance. This reference is repeated throughout the store, most notably at the two entrances, but also used at the serving counters, where Noren curtains displaying signage are hung on a long rail, providing maximum flexibility.

Street food takoyaki is made and sold in the middle of the supermarketStreet food takoyaki is made and sold in the middle of the supermarket

Ichiba is the brainchild of the Japan Centre Group and Cool Japan Fund, which supports business ventures in promoting Japanese culture and encouraging tourism. CADA Design previously designed Japan Centre Group’s flagship store in Leicester Square. While Ichiba is in many ways a departure from this, cues were still taken from the original design to promote familiarity across their ventures. The same tables and chairs, supplied by TON, were used, among bespoke dining booths in matching warm timber, which also act as a divider between sections.

In the image of traditional Japanese food halls, Ichiba was designed after an extensive study trip to Tokyo, working in conjunction with Japan Centre to ensure the image of Japan being presented is an authentic one. Taking queues from a traditional Japanese food hall, glazed screens separate the bakery from the main dining and shopping area. Strip lighting is seemingly sprinkled on to the ceiling, creating a chopstick reference that stretches across the store.

Open displays are loaded with Japanese foodstuffsOpen displays are loaded with Japanese foodstuffs

At Ichiba the food becomes theatre. It is about more than just eating. The everyday preparation of the food dominates the space, with glass screens to all kitchens proudly revealing the activities within. A central island where takoyaki is made and bought is completely open to the hall – creating a staging point for the traditional Japanese street food to be made. Add to this regular sake tasting, workshops and demonstrations – and Ichiba is able tap into all of the senses in creating a space to eat, see, smell, hear and touch.

Food is prepared in situ in the supermarketFood is prepared in situ in the supermarket

The changes at White City are vast. New developments are rapidly springing up, as if from nowhere and in this climate – it’s easy to view each piece as washed with the same paintbrush, in a shade of ‘new’. Here, we see Ichiba offering something different. The Japan Centre is evidently bringing new products, sights and tastes to this part of London – but its design brings a functional, authentic design, that is inherently Japanese, but somehow, already at home.

Project Info

Client: Japan Centre Group, Cool Japan Fund
Architect: CADA Design
Area: 1,600 sq m
Covers: 200

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