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Welcome to the Yard

By turns a shopper’s paradise and an architectural marvel, Coal Drops Yard goes beyond the usual retail experience to deliver something truly special

words by Will HALBERT

I’ll preface this, outright and unequivocal, with an apology: it’s hard to describe a place like Coal Drops Yard – London’s latest shopping hotspot – without descending into clichés, superlatives, and general, wayward hyperbole. I’ll attempt to keep all of the aforementioned to a minimum but in truth, it’s tough knowing where to start with a landmark as multifaceted as Coal Drops Yard.

Sure, you could start with the location itself, I suppose. Set amongst the awe-inspiring, post-industrial views of London’s Granary Square and Regent’s Canal, Coal Drops Yard stands tall and proud as the latest addition to King’s Cross’ already pretty spectacular line up of sights, sounds and spectacles. 

But why should The Yard’s sense of place take precedence over its eye-popping aesthetics? Coal Drops Yard is, after all, an architectural marvel of epic proportions, an awe-inspiring amalgamation of contemporary design and surviving, vernacular structures.

Surely then, it makes more sense to start with The Yard’s main attraction; the first rate retail experience on offer at this hub of heritage and history, this hotbed of architectural excellence? But that presents its own problems. The iron-clad, canal-side arches are, after all, home to over 50 of the UK’s best stores, bars, brasseries and eateries. From contemporary fashion goliaths like COS and A.P.C. to smaller, humbler makers and crafters like Blackhorse Lane Ateliers and LPOL, Coal Drops Yard offers up a day of retail therapy like no other.

Are you starting to see my problem? It’s hard to know where to begin when every aspect of a space demands your attention so fully, and for so many different reasons. Best, I suppose, to be pragmatic. Best to start from the beginning.

Coal Drops Yard was originally constructed back in 1850 as a means of handling the eight million tonnes of coal delivered annually to the capital. Its post-industrial era saw it become home to legendary nightclubs like Bagley’s and The Cross, two of London’s largest nightclub spaces for two decades. All of which is to say that CDY is steeped in the rich industrial and subcultural heritage that lies at the very heart of the capital.

Fast forward to 2018 and Heatherwick Studio (the architectural eminences who brought you the London Velodrome and, more recently, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery) have transformed the site into something equally special. From the cobbled courtyards, to the iron viaducts, to the now-famous ‘kissing rooftops’, Coal Drops Yard has become something contemporary and experiential yet utterly of its place. As such, referring to CDY as a boutique shopping destination falls somewhat short. For all the grandeur of its ample, adventurous and louder-than-life retail spots, there’s more to CDY than its impressive, immersive shopping experience. This is more than a retail complex, this is a cultural meeting point, an inspired (and inspiring) intersection of fashion, food, culture and art.

As the sun sets on King’s Cross, that seemingly small point of difference becomes all the more clear. The winding banks of Regent’s Canal find themselves punctuated with evening joggers and dog walkers alike. The terraces of the Yard’s myriad bars and restaurants grow loud with the clinking glasses and excited chitter chatter of post-work crowds. It’s in those evening hours when the bigger picture becomes abundantly clear. Coal Drops Yard begins to feel less like a shopping destination and more like a modern village.

In my endeavours to refrain from the aforementioned cliché and hyperbole, I won’t jump the shark entirely and say this is the place to be. But in a city moving entirely too fast as it is, Coal Drops Yard offers up just the right level of spectacle and escape necessary to take a few moments and just, well, be. EJ