> | | > At War With The Urban: A Critique of Leeds Trinity Centre

At War With The Urban: A Critique of Leeds Trinity Centre

Posted on Tuesday, 2 April 2013 | No Comments

"In the morning and in the evening and at night in his dreams, this street was filled with constantly bustling traffic, which seen from above seemed like a continually self-replenishing mixture of distorted human figures and [...] it seemed as if a glass pane, hanging over the street and converging everything, were being smashed again and again with the utmost force.”- Franz Kafka, 'Amerika'

Much of Leeds's claim to be the dominant city of Yorkshire has been based in shopping. Come ye mighty, and despair with the barely-pubescent goths that flock to the Corn Exchange, or to The Light, for cinematic and culinary experiences guaranteed to have been scrubbed clear of any unwanted culture value, or to the Harvey Nichols - we're just like London baby, but with added provincial self-importance. This is not to say that Leeds does not boast some wonderful views, buildings and venues, because it does, but it is not on account of its virtues that Leeds lays claim to flat-capped godhead. No, for Leeds, quality is measured in exchanged capital and consumers weighed down by their purchases and ego.

As such then, it is perhaps not such a surprise to find the city answering recession with exactly the kind of faux-grandiose gesture that summed up the zombie economy that fell to the ground so violently. Whatever noble intentions might have been behind this attempt to re-invigorate the high street at a time when the British high street is in such a dire state have been crushed by the terrible, mind numbing inevitability of what has turned up instead. Worried that everyone is just going to the out of town centres? Just plonk one of those forsaken dumps down in the middle of the city then.

One of the must curious aspects of the Trinity Centre then is how un-urban it feels. You might have just stepped off Briggate, but walk through the white arches and it feels like you've stepped into the duty free zone from hell. The recent trend towards glass structures and plain, blank surfaces (intended to give an impression of cleanliness, even if it just ends up at clinical) started out in the airports of the West as an easy shortcut to the utopianism desired when one is about to defy gravity, but in its dominance in current architecture it has never quite shaken off the tedium and the frustrations inherent in longeurs that come with flying. The other-wordly effect could be pleasing, if it were not so mundane. Not even a temple of capitalism, the Trinity Centre is a waiting zone lacking a final destination

Where the duty free zone succeeds, on a financial level if none other, out of sheer inevitability - coop up thousands of people for two or three hours before they begin the journey they want to undertake, and of course they'll try to spend their way out of the boredom - Trinity Leeds again is set up to disappoint. The out-of-town centres have thrived because of the (imagined) convinience and novelty of having all your most tolerated brands situated together in one site. Trinity Leeds has attempted the same (with several brands having moved from the high street into Trinity - nice work on saving the high street then), but with most of the major selling points either being stores that already existed before the Trinity - Topshop, Marks & Spencer - or a new branch of something already available in Leeds (yes, the mediocrity of Nandos continues its beige dominion here), the convinience and novelty factors run rather low on the ground. Aside from a One Direction shop selling branded onesies for £80 a pop to further ravage the wallets of parents, there's precious little here that didn't already exist here in Leeds, or in every other retail outlet the county over. It's the repetition of an already failing idea from people who somehow expect this to end up with a different result.

On my visit to the Trinity, all the allusions to spaciousness and neo-classicism were rather diminished by the uncomfortable crowding throughout the entire complex, the featureless nature of the design making it impossible to successfully navigate and causing huge clusters of humanity to crash into each other as people try and work out where they came in from and, more significantly, how the hell they can ever escape. This is presumably a deliberate ploy to try and confuse the consumer into spening more within the centre, but with an annoyance factor this high, it's not hard to see most people swearing off the place after one or two frustrating visits. In trying to reduce us to swarms of ants with wallets, the designers behind Trinity might have done the exact opposite and awakened our individual conscious so we can get out of the bloody place.

In short then, the Trinity is a block whose pseudo-tasteful design emerges as a paper thin facade for an astonishing disdain for the experience of urbanism. There are to be no unlicenced spectacles here, no opportunities for chance: the only collisions will be between fellow dazed walkers, dulled into compliance. If this is to be the savour of the high street - this unaesthetic, pointless, cynical mess that has erupted through the city centre like some alien infection - then the concept is clearly already lost. This can only serve to drive people away from anything of value, and further the terrible glistening gentrification that has advanced through the city in the last decade. It's money at its most base, dull level. Come come, you friendly bombs, and fall on the Trinity Centre.

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