#187 Westfield Shopping Centre
It’s the future of malls, you see. Or, pragmatically, the recent past of malls, since Westfield Centre snuck into Shepherd’s Bush in 2008, just before the recession really started to bite. It’s a monument to optimistic overspending, but it’s hardly deserted now. It’s packed with a special mix of high-spend normals, those too towny to shop in Chelsea but too rich to hang out in Hammersmith. Actually, this is pretty refreshing in West London. After all, these people aren’t showing off or just window-shopping, they’re rolling up their sleeves and oiling the wheels of commerce. Thanks to the Westfield’s inhuman scale and sleek, mechanised interior, the customers really do feel like the tiny particles of moving energy, making the zombified economy lurch on. Plus, they’re admirably well-dressed.
The Westfield Centre is big. So big, it actually fills the space between three different tube stations. You exit the Westfield in a different part of London from where you entered. It has one of every middling-to-upper-class high street shop, from WH Smith to Gucci via Waitrose and Top Shop. Low-rent shops are banned – you won’t seen a Poundland or a Greggs in here. (There is a Burger King, but it’s pushed almost outside of the actual store, a fast-food pariah before you get on the escalators.) Everything inside is bathroom white, luxe and restrained. There’s no way of telling where you are; you could be in Belgium or Bahrain. It’s like being inside an iPod.
The Westfield is, like Las Vegas, openly a machine for making money. It’s emphatically not a public space. Even the comfy leather chairs and scuff-free sofas dotted considerately around seem to remind you that you’re on someone else’s home turf. If you got out a megaphone and started yelling about Jesus, I reckon you’d have about six seconds before you were bundled off into a pristine white van by Stormtroopers and dumped outside grimy, low-tech Shepherd’s Bush Market.
But unlike other malls, nobody would ever thing of shouting in the Westfield. It’s too plastic to let you imagine anything so gauche. And crucially, it’s not a centre to anything, or a meeting place. It’s a periphery, a bonus, an added extra. Yeah, it’s technically a ‘destination’, but all you will actually do is stumble round it, eyes glazed and fingers compulsively clutching when you see the next range of shinies. It’s actually a massive mill-wheel of a roundabout, endlessly revolving, taking in people and material stuff, and spewing out profit.
Westfield is also where every high street shop comes to strut its coolest looks. Even the Superdrug looks all dolled up and ready to party. Obviously, the Apple store is in its element here, as you’d expect, as transparent and alien as one of those weird deep-water fish.
Outside one overdesigned shop – is it Hollister? I think so – a half-naked man and woman stand, looking bored and aloof. They’re not customers or assistants, they’re in-store models. This sounds exotic until you realise – and it doesn’t take very long – that they’re actually being paid to be shop dummies. They’re human wossnames. Human Autons. The scary plastic people from Doctor Who. And people don’t come much more plastic than this.
And then there’s The Village.
The Village appears to exist just to prove JG Ballard was right about everything. It’s the only thing more disturbing than the M Night Shyalaman film of the same name, and considerably better made. It’s the part of the Westfield centre where all the true designer shops hang out. It shimmers enough to blind you. By the giant spiral staircase, a captive piano player bangs out neutered tunes. It’s a gated community without gates – except the first thing you see at every entrance to Prada, Versace and Louis Vuitton is a huge, studiously angry security guard, eyeing up your net yearly profits and total disposable income before he’ll let you in.
I could go on- I haven’t mentioned the delirious food hall, or the multiple department stores held at different corners to each other, like boozy post-pub fighters being kept at arms length, or the weirdness of a multi-storey Foyles bookstore looking grumpy and out of place, or the computerised maps, or the … but you get the idea. In its own way, the Westfield Centre is an event. It’s consumer London, decontaminated and purified. A super-nowhere-zone for ultimate consumerism. And it’s so convenient for the tube! We wouldn’t go anywhere else.