Owen Luder is an architect who has seen at first hand, the destructive nature of taste. His buildings of the New Brutalist style of the 1960s have come under constant attack in the last decade, described as being ugly, dated and eyesores, most notably his Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth of 1966 and Trinity Square car park, Gateshead, 1967. Both of which, despite being excellent examples of 1960s brutalism have catastrophically avoided the listing process with the Tricorn demolished in 2004 the Trinity Square town centre as I write. Owen Luder’s design for the Tricorn Centre incorporated car parking space for five-hundred cars, a nightclub, a supermarket, flats, offices, restaurants and a petrol station. It was bulbous in design with six interlinking roof-decks with are punctuated by towers that articulate the skyline, ‘not exactly San Gimignano, but undoubtedly picturesque’ . The use of concrete enabled a flowing, horizontal emphasis which added to the beauty of the structure which, unfortunately, was missed by many. The tight spiraling stairwells mirror the more loosely twisting car park decks and link the structure both physically and aesthetically. The problems with the Tricorn and the reasons for its demolition can be seen to be due to its deteriorating structural problems. Yet it is arguably down to the general publics distaste for the building and the local council’s extortion of a ‘general feeling’ as to why it no longer stands today. Perhaps it was a mistake to bring this certain brand of New Brutalism into the commercial sector, but how were the architects and contractors to know that such a radical and dramatic building would go so spectacularly out of favour? There are many suggested reason why the Tricorn failed, Henley comments on its ‘resemblance to Hitler’s French coastal fortifications-a city-centre Atlantic wall rejected as legitimate cityscape, and perhaps never the model popular place’ . Perhaps it was too soon after the War to create a city-centre that alludes so strongly to the coastal defenses of Normandy. Yet it is evident that a culmination of poor maintenance on the councils behalf, the majority of the publics dislike for the centre and a need for regeneration all added to its demise. Despite attempts to list the Tricorn when its demolition was proposed, the English Heritage denied endeavors to preserve the structure. Yet it seems that even English Heritage bypassed their most basic of criteria, is it or is it not architecturally or historically significant? The answer should have been yes. It was a fine example of the New Brutalist style and was a fine example of planning that incorporated a great number of functions. But rather than spend their money on renovation to bring an old structure back to life the local government saw an easier and more economically viable option, to demolish and rebuild.
Tragically, still no-one has learnt from the mistakes of the Tricorn and another great example of modern British architecture, the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead is set for the same graceless fate. Also designed by the Owen Luder Partnership, Trinity Square has become immortalised by the 1971 film Get Carter by Michael Hodges. The Irony of its appearance is that, in the film, Carter tips the developer Cliff Brumby to his death from one of the stair towers of the now infamous car park. However the real developers have little interest in its historic and architectural significance, the car park was closed in January 2008 and is being demolished this year. Again it seems that the English Heritage have overlooked the importance of Luder’s work and have now denied the building a fighting chance. The original concept was to create a town-centre that would rival that of neighbouring Newcastle. The centre was to have space for fifty-three shops, which included two super-markets and a department store which could be accessed by an overhead road . Car ownership had steadily risen since the 1950s so the decision was made to top the shopping street with a seven storey car-park that could accommodate four-hundred and ninety cars. Topping the car-park was, a feature that Luder had used in his Tricorn Centre, a night club that would bring life to the car park throughout the day and night. These mixed-use schemes were far from unique but were important at the time as they bought much needed trade to Portsmouth and Gateshead city centre whilst providing ample parking for the growing number of cars on the road. Despite its uses Gateshead Trinity Square will shortly follow its contemporary, the Tricorn Centre, into the long list of demolished post-war buildings which will now be confined to the history books. The immanent destruction of one of Britain’s finest multi-purpose concrete structures has caused much discussion and has been widely covered in the press. A great deal of attention has been cast upon Trinity Square mostly because of its role in Get Carter, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand the popularity of the film, and therefore the building, has been one of the factors that have kept this car park open for more years than the Tricorn. Without such media attention it may have been demolished without question before people really had a chance to voice their opinions. However, on the other hand, it does say quite a lot about our society today that people only seem to value a building, think it worthy of existence, if it has cult status from being in a film. Perhaps our culture has moved on somewhat, and film and television are more important to the majority of the public than conserving 1960s concrete ‘monstrosity’. Nonetheless the Brutalist building that once punctuated Gateshead’s rather dreary skyline, shall soon be gone and replaced with a shiny, new and of course ‘better’ town centre, which will no doubt be demolished in forty years to make way for the next moneymaking endeavor. The Trinity Square redevelopment intends to ‘create facilities and services for the benefit of everyone visiting, living and working in Gateshead’, and will include shops, offices, apartments, cafes, banks, a hotel, health facilities, underground parking and of course a Tesco store. Spenhill, the commercial development subsidiary of Tesco, truly believes that filling another city centre with another Tesco will help bring costumers back to Gateshead’s many independent shops. A cynical view may be that this is merely a money making scheme which will not only destroy an architecturally significant building but also strangle the city centers smaller shops which are struggling to survive as it is. New is not necessarily an improvement. What is not surprising about this development is that the vast majority of the population of Gateshead are supporting the regeneration program. As was the case in the 1960s, with the ‘destruction of the ‘dreary’ and ‘ugly’ Victorian architecture, many people now think that these types of redevelopments are doing the community good. Yet what many fail to see is that, unlike the 1960s, these new schemes are being forced through by big companies like Tesco. There is no doubt that both Portsmouth and Gateshead town centers needed to be updated, as there is evidence to show that they were crime ridden and dirty and in some cases dangerous. But perhaps the local governments and even English Heritage could have put money into refurbishing what was there rather than destroying the old and starting again. The listing of New Brutalist buildings such as Trellick Tower in December 1998 has strengthened the popularity of the flats and indeed the building. Harwood even goes so far as to say there is a ‘vogue for the 1960s’ .
Despite success stories such as Trellick Tower and Park Hill in Sheffield there is still a great deal of hatred in Britain for the New Brutalist style, and especially of the its common and notorious concrete exteriors. ‘Nothing seems to raise people’s passions quite like post-war architecture’ , exclaims Alan Powers in an interview for The Times art supplement. HRH The Prince of Wales is infamous for raising his passionate hatred for all but a handful of post-war buildings and with his platform as heir to the throne we can be thankful of the limited power that the British monarchy holds today. In his wonderfully entitled book ‘A Vision of Britain’ His Royal Highness shows little open-mindedness or even knowledge of architecture which only helps to add to the criticism he already receives. His passion for architecture of a ‘human scale’ has led him to argue against such concrete ‘carbuncles’ as the Alton Estates and Trellick Tower. ‘The fashionable architecture of the 50s and 60s, so slavishly followed by those who wanted to be considered ‘with it’ have spawned deformed monsters which have come to haunt our towns and cities.’ It seems that Prince Charles is unable or at least unwilling to accept that a growing population in Britain cannot economically and physically live in picture-postcard cottages in the ‘Home Counties’. The British population is growing and often, as was the case in the 1950s and 1960s, housing shortages require a quick fix solution. The New Brutalist style was a fashionable, cheap and quick problem solver, in its day, although its longevity comes under question. The irony of it all that despite Price Charles’ hatred for modern development in British cities and countryside alike he is quick to champion such developments as Poundbury Village in Dorset (1996). The development would create a new idyllic town just outside the county town of Dorchester, Jonathan Glancey writes, ‘[only] in Britain could such a thing happen. For some years an excited coterie of tweedy architects sporting bird’s nest haircuts and ancient brogues sat at the dainty feet of the Prince of Wales discussing a grand new extension of Dorchester’ . Glancey was right to condemn it as often these types of development are the very thing that takeover acres of the countryside and produce large amounts of housing, at a high price, for very few. It highlights the lack of understanding that the Prince of Wales and his acolytes consistently display, thinking more about the past than ideas of the future of Britain. I do not suggest for one moment that Britain should consider turning our cities into high density, high-rise urban landscapes yet it is important to remember why post-war planners considered the tower block as suitable housing.