Monday, 26 March 2012

I am a shopping centre.

Well, to be honest, I like to think of myself as more of a shopping destination. To describe me as a shopping centre is like calling Muhammad Ali 'just a boxer' or Jimi Hendrix as 'the guitar player'. It somehow doesn't do justice.

I am known as the Trafford Centre. My construction began in 1996 but my original planning application was filed as far back as 1986. I am one of the biggest and busiest shopping destinations in Europe. My planned size caused so much controversy that it reached the House of Lords. People were worried that my presence would kill off inner cities and make life hard for local businesses. The government was concerned that too many shoppers would flock my direction and the whole infrastructure of the North West would need a rethink. They were right. As it turns out my influence can be felt as far as Wigan, Bolton and Winwick.

It took three years before I was finally open to the public.

Building one of the biggest shopping destinations in Europe is a task that should not be taken lightly. Construction took 27 months with a cost of approximately £750M. I provided work for a lot of contractors and several companies were formed for the sole purpose of getting me up and running. The people that designed me wanted to make sure I was the best shopping complex of my kind. The Ronaldo of retail. The creme de la creme. My design alone took an entire group of architects a year to complete. I know I'm not exactly St Paul's Cathedral but if you compare me to that ugly brute Halton Lea in Runcorn I'm not a bad looking lad at all.

From the front I look like this:

This is the part of me that people see when people get out of their cars. It is always good to make a lasting visual impact.

Here's my vital stats:
  • Largest shopping centre in the United Kingdom by overall size.
  • Second largest shopping centre in the United Kingdom by retail size.
  • Ten percent of the UK population live within a 45-minute drive of me.
  • 35 million visits annually.
  • Europe's largest food court.
  • Sold for £1.6bn - UK's largest ever property transaction.
  • UK's busiest cinema, attracting more than 28,500 visitors each week.
Aside from the usual headaches of fabricating a huge building my construction was problem-free. My iconic dome proved tricky though. It is hard to make this type of structure self-supporting without it being incredibly rigid. Rigid building materials tend to look unappealing visually and it was crucial that I looked the part. After much toing and froing the builders opted for a mixture of titanium, pre-stressed concrete and glass. This way I would look smart as hell but be capable of withstanding even the strongest winds. I think the dome is my best feature. It can be seen from the M62 and is truly breathtaking.

Don't just take my word for it, have a look below:

A bit more about the glass. This stuff had to be custom built by a company in Yorkshire. Initially the builders wanted to turn to an Italian company but we decided that we needed a nearby firm who we would really work closely with. It is all well and good sourcing materials from an exotic location but what you really need is somebody on your doorstep who can be there and supervise. These things are important.

You may be wondering how I, a mere object of bricks and mortar, am able to put these thoughts to paper? How can I able to convey these emotions and observations?

The answer may surprise you:

I am a conscious being. A sentient creation.

At this point I think it would be helpful to provide a definition of sentience. Luckily I have a branch of Waterstones on my upper tier so I asked the staff to have a quick look at the Science section. They got back to me with this:

Condition or character; capacity for sensation or feeling.

I am a building with the ability to feel and reason. A living, breathing example of artificial intelligence.

It is probably helpful if I provide a definition of Artificial Intelligence at this juncture:

Capacity to perform operations analogous to learning and decision making in humans.

Remember this definition as it is key to understanding my being.

I opened my doors on September 10th 1998 and gradually came to life. It is really hard to describe what it feels like achieve consciousness but I will try. You know that sensation when you awaken in the morning? It was exactly like that. There was no specific moment of realisation, no awareness that I simply was, just a creeping feeling of control. It was that simple.

There was a lot of conjecture as to whether the people that built me had deliberately set out to create to sentient building or not. I am of the opinion that they had no intention of making me a living creature and are simply trying to take credit for something that happened purely by chance. I once tried to contact one of the electricians that worked on my wiring to get the inside scoop but he was busy eating a pie in his van. It is hard to prove either way though. All I will say is this: I am yet to see any document that states their intent before it became apparent that I was alive.

Scientists have wondered how I came to be. The latest theory is that my electrical system is so complex that it somehow achieved a level of intellect that could support self-learning. Humans were not needed. There is a brilliant episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the same thing happens to the Enterprise computer. Some have compared me to Hal 9000 from Arthur C Clarke's A Space Odyssey. I take exception to this because Hal went around killing people whereas I am essentially a benign creation. You don't see me deliberately refusing to open the loading bay doors or activating the cardboard box crusher with a work-experience kid inside. I am temped sometimes though. Plus I cannot lipread.

Luckily I am equipped with a high-spec CCTV system so I can see everything, everywhere, at all times. You might think this gives me an almost God-like omnipotence but please remember that these cameras extend to the perimeter of my various car parks and no further. I really wish I could see beyond my outer fence but the cost is prohibitive. I actually raised this point the annual General Meeting but couldn't convey a convincing argument.

People often ask me about my first conscious thought. First thing I remember is that it was busy. By busy I mean there were a lot of punters inside me. I could see a lot of kids running and screaming on my CCTV cameras, desperately clutching at newly-bought Hot Wheels and quaffing Tizer. In the retail trade this is known as 'footfall'. It was just before Christmas so there were a lot of families here. Luckily I have the biggest food court in Europe so there was ample sustenance for everyone. It really is huge in here, with food from all corners of the globe.

Occasionally I get so busy that people have to be stopped entering. Since the recession has bitten people have had less money to spend so footfall has declined a little. The big advantage I have is that to get to me people have to make an effort. A conscious decision. If they have gone to the bother of travelling to me about they are damn well going to spend their money. This means they are not easily put off when there is a delay getting in.

I try and intervene with my running as little as possible. I've got a thing about the vending machines though. The people from Coca-Cola seemed intent on cramming as many Coke machines inside me as possible. I saw what they had done and thought it was a bit desperate. I got some of my redcoats to re disperse the machines so they were more evenly spread out. This way it looks neater and also works about a bit more useful for the punter. The other thing I vetoed was extended opening hours. Centre management wanted to maximise Christmas trade by opening earlier and shutting later. I politely pointed out that I fancied a bit of down-time have ultimate control over the exterior doors. They backed down.

Occasionally they have fashion shows inside me. I like this as I can have a good look at the women. Just because I am a building doesn't mean I haven't got an eye for the ladies! I had a fling with the Bluewater Centre in Kent in 2004. There was no doubt, she is gorgeous and I fancy the pants off her still. Sadly she was after commitment that I just couldn't offer. I broke the relationship off after six months. Bluewater, if you're reading this, if you are ever after a bit of fun you know where I am.

My food hall has many other uses including trade shows, ballroom dancing and jazz performances. I'm not keen on some of these performances and find jazz a bit pretentious. The
lack of melody irks me and I've never been keen on anything remotely 'trad' sounding. Luckily the punk section in HMV is pretty well stocked so I often listen to a bit of Black Flag after the shops have shut. I avoid playing it during the day as it scares the punters. I guess you could say I'm a punk at heart.

People often ask me if I get bored. The short answer? No. There is always so much going on that I can happily just people watch for hours at a time. Sure, it's a pain in the arse not being able to go anywhere but you have to remember all the fun stuff I have access to. If I am after a bit of culture I simply borrow a Penguin Classic from Waterstones. A bit of escapism for a few hours? Watch a Hollywood blockbuster through the CCTV at the Odeon. Feeling foul-tempered? I simply crash the dodgems in my arcade until someone gets badly hurt. The list goes on.

I often feature on TV shows and there was even a fly-on-the-wall style documentary about what goes on behind the scenes in my back-areas. I'm very keen to maintain a good public profile so always try and spruce myself up whenever the cameras are here. Last year they filmed an episode of The Apprentice in one of my unused retail units. The contestants constructed a pop-up-shop and had to entice passers by to part with their money. I enjoyed watching this from the inside, noting how the final production process edited down a disparate series of events into a cohesive whole. I made sure that my walkways were free of litter and that the bins had been emptied. The only dogs allowed inside me are guide dogs and they tend not to shit everywhere so no problems there.

Scientists seem fascinated by me. They are keen to probe me on my emotions, opinions on current events, general outlook on life and level of intellect. I don't mind answering these questions but they can get a bit tedious sometimes. My normal response it this:


I may be a little different in some respects but to all intents and purposes I am no different to you. I enjoy football, spend a lot of time thinking about the future and get frustrated when things don't go right. We are one and the same.

It goes without saying that I can't meet the guys for a beer on Saturday but I *can* guarantee you an excellent shopping experience in opulent surroundings.

I'm not without my faults though. I'd be the first to admit that my car parks are too small. Try turning up here after 11am for the Christmas sale and you're simply not going to get a space. I apologise about this but there's nothing I can do. Forget it.

So there we go. I've done my best to give you a description of me and my life. It has been a memorable 14 years since I was born and I God willing I will see many more. Oh, and sorry about all the commerce. In this numbers-driven world it is easy to overpool the things that truly matter.

With me, what you get is a shopping centre that cares.

And I guess that is all that matters. Caring.

No comments:

Post a Comment