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In August 2023, we enjoyed taking part in a design competition to reimagine an empty Debenhams department store in Kent, for Folkestone and Hythe District Council. The existing building has a prominent High Street location, with good connections to key locations in Folkestone, making it a prime location for exciting and innovative investment, whilst protecting the historic character of the existing building.

To inform the design, we took the principles of ‘Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Reduce’ to reinvent the building into a new Community Hub for the High Street in the most socially and environmentally sustainable way. Despite being at such a conceptual design level, we put sustainability at the forefront and considered within our design response: retaining the existing building, opportunities for biodiverse roofs, solar power, internal insulation, and grey water harvesting. We also set ourselves the challenge of working with recycled materials found within 10 miles of the site before looking to other material options, whilst ensuring all waste would be categorised and recycled.

For our design response, we developed a number of drawings to illustrate our emerging plans, outlined below.


Using the deep existing floor plate, at the ground floor, our competition entry proposed perimeter workshops and studios, where makers from Folkestone’s create community could rent a space to produce their work which could then be sold and displayed in the retail areas of the proposal. These workshops would border a central spill out design space and community living room that could be used by members of the public flexibly.

We believed there was scope to celebrate the fact that the existing basement would remain the darkest space and thus saw it sensible to tap into Folkestone’s night time economy here, transforming the space into a social zone, with spaces for activities such as bowling and bouldering. These spaces would be illuminated by a new lightwell which would bring light into the existing deep plan.

Going up to 1st floor, we proposed an area for Council Offices to be situated (a brief requirement), using the same language of perimeter offices as the floor below for consistency. Meanwhile, the top floor would accommodate more social spaces such as a community restaurant, showcasing local produce, and a bar which could spill out onto a roof terrace surrounding the central lightwell. We feel all of these interventions would create a true Community Hub in an important High Street Location, whilst adhering to the idea that the greenest building is one that already exists.


Though we sadly didn’t win the competition, we enjoyed applying our civic building and retrofit experience to a challenging yet exciting brief.

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