Press release: Judges praise ‘inspiring’ day of ideas reimagining M&S Oxford Street buildings

Finalists in SAVE/AJ re:store competition work up ideas at intense Bake Off-style workshop

24th May 2024

Six teams took part in an exciting and thought-provoking day-long workshop marking the culmination of Re:store, the ideas competition run by SAVE and the Architects’ Journal for the M&S Oxford Street site.

The judges and organisers praised the quality of the work produced under intense pressure at yesterday’s live “charrette” hosted by the school of architecture at Ravensbourne University on London’s Greenwich Peninsula.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage, said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the thought and skill that all the entrants put into their submissions. The charrette achieved exactly what we were aiming for – to capture the creativity and imagination of architects. Doing it in a university setting with the help of Ravensbourne’s students was a massive bonus.

“We hoped to challenge old-fashioned thinking about demolishing and rebuilding historic buildings, both for sustainability reasons – releasing the potential of the resources we already hold in our hands – but also recognising the townscape importance and emotional attachment these buildings have. When you erase chunks of history you can never get them back.”

AJ managing editor Will Hurst said the day had been a hopeful one, arguing that the six “generous” proposals demonstrated a huge appetite in the industry for retaining and reusing buildings such as M&S Oxford Street.

The six winning teams – Connolly Wellingham, Saqqra, Jestico + Whiles, Marks Barfield, Avanti Architects and Add Apt – spent the morning designing as the clock ticked towards presentation time. A little like Bake Off, the teams had four intense hours to work up their ideas through sketching, model-making and discussion before being grilled by the judges. There was a real buzz in the room as the deadline loomed and journalists arrived to interview the teams.

Another highlight was the debate at the end of the day which everyone was invited to join. As architect and judge Sanaa Shaikh of Native Studio said: “The discussion that came from the ideas was really important. The whole day has shown there’s a plethora of options and potential lives for M&S’s buildings. They have this asset in such a prominent location and they could do something amazing with it.”

Basil Demeroutis, co-sponsor and managing partner of specialist retrofit developer the FORE Partnership, told the teams: “This conversation is so rich. I’m so impressed with the way you have articulated the brief. A lot of these schemes are probably more viable than the smash-and-grab planning application. We’re moving away from that mentality and I would encourage you to have this conversation with your clients. Developers are ready for this. We’re entering a golden age of architecture so please don’t let it go to waste.”

Finalist Zubaydah Jibrilu, from Marks Barfield Architects, said: “It’s been a great day, full of energy.” Her colleague Darcy Arnold-Jones added: “We’ve loved the breadth and depth of ideas – and the exchange of ideas. Each studio has approached the brief differently and to have an open discussion and learn from each other has been refreshing.”

The aim of the day was not to pick a winner but to gather the best ideas. All the finalists’ work will feature in a special issue of the Architects’ Journal in July. The competition has also featured on SAVE and the AJ’s social media channels as well as in Time Out.


M&S wants to demolish its Marble Arch buildings and replace them with a monolithic 10-storey office block. It still does not have planning permission six years, a legal challenge and a public inquiry – won by SAVE – later. The High Court has referred the case back to the Secretary of State for redetermination.

The free-to enter Re:store competition was launched by the Architects’ Journal and SAVE Britain’s Heritage this year to explore whether a new lease of life could be found for the buildings. It is independent of M&S, although we hope the ideas will inspire M&S to reconsider their wasteful demolition plans.

Re:store was open to UK-based architects and architecture students. It asked entrants to meet five key objectives including prioritising whole-life carbon design principles, preserving heritage and recognising the challenges facing the world-famous Oxford Street, and potentially other high streets elsewhere in the country.

We were thrilled by the response from leading architectural practices, individual architects and students. The quality of entries was superb, with teams offering detailed technical approaches to the task of reusing the buildings. Many found ways of introducing natural light, social space and “wow” moments into the heart of the building as well as improving the pedestrian experience through and around the buildings.

Ideas for new uses include: an urban farm-to-fork cookery centre; a retrofit academy where pre-loved items can be upcycled and the public learn repair skills; pop-up arcades; experiential concept stores; housing; a rooftop restaurant; and a basement spa.

A longlist of 13 teams was chosen to face the judges who then picked six finalists to take part in the charrette workshop hosted by the school of architecture at Ravensbourne University in North Greenwich, ending with celebratory drinks on the roof.

Our thanks to Ravensbourne’s staff and students; to our sponsors Basil Demeroutis of the FORE Partnership and Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Management; and to the judges, architects Sanaa Shaikh of Native Studio and Simon Henley of Henley Halebrown; London School of Architecture chief executive Neal Shasore; and the AJ’s sustainability editor Hattie Hartman.


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