Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I'm pretty sure I've posted about this before in a way but I had a quick scan through the archives and can't find anything* relating to it. Ho hum. Anyway I've been thinking about brutalist architecture a lot today, partly because the desktop picture preferences on my Mac at work are currently set to shift at 30min intervals through a folder of images called "structure" which is a grab bag of architectural photos, some my own, some which just moved me. Amongst them are some of this gentleman's excellent photographs of the (then doomed, now gone) Tricorn Centre.

I remember being deeply saddened at the time by its demolition and by the reported jubilation at the centre's destruction. It was a unique and (in my opinion) beautiful example of an architectural style now long gone, but which embodied an (also long gone) optimistic view of the future and of ourselves... Celebrating the erasure of that seemed wrong somehow.

Demolition went ahead in spite of some protest, and the Tricorn now exists only in memory (sometimes electronic). The good burghers of Portsmouth reportedly rejoiced, and (since I have no desire to live in Portsmouth, Tricorn or no) many would say I have no right to censure them for that... the same could I suppose be said were the residents of Rome to decide to demolish the Forum, or the Parisians to tire of Eiffel's tower... to my mind the only significant difference is historical perspective. Incidentally Portsmouth was (as far as I can tell) rewarded with this in place of their detested "concrete carbuncle". I hope it pleases them, but I can't imagine it ever making anyone's soul soar in quite the way its sculptural predecessor irrefutably could.

Anyway, Garfield's photographs (at least the versions stored in my collection) are of a resolution which pixelates somewhat when displayed full screen on the state-of-the-art MacBook Pro I'm privileged to use all day, and being of a graphical bent this bothers me. So in a (rare) free moment I stopped to look for some other higher resolution photographs of the Tricorn to replace them**. In doing so I found myself reading a lot of articles about the impending demolition of another of Luder's grand works, the Trinity Centre in Gateshead, aka the Get Carter Car Park.

I'm not really sure why I'm so moved by the destruction of these gargantuan concrete sculptures, but I am. The same short sighted, small minded rhetoric keeps being spouted to justify removing these (intentionally) run down buildings from these (intentionally?) run down communities which they were designed to reinvigorate. It genuinely makes my heart ache... but I can't in all honesty pretend to care a great deal about either Gateshead or Portsmouth. I think what gets me is the loss to the world at large, and the rejection of that optimistic vision... sure it was flawed, neither the Tricorn nor the Trinity ever really worked as originally envisaged, but both are/were beautiful and inspiring spaces with real potential.

Moves are afoot to limit this kind wanton destruction of our unfashionable architectural past. They're primarily motivated by a recognition that knocking down and starting again, makes sense only by our existing unsustainable economic model's standards. Re-use is a far more environmentally responsible approach to buildings which fail to meet their initial remit (for whatever reason) and/or fall out of vogue. I hope that out of this necessity a happy side effect might be that the future suffers fewer of these cultural losses at the hands of fashion. I'm a naive optimist you see... which might be (in part) why these structures speak to me in the first place.

*incidentally the archives are getting somewhat unwieldy now that there are almost 5 years' worth, so next time I have time I'm going to look into revising the page to deal with them better... if anyone has a good suggestion for a neater archive solution feel free to email me on the usual address or comment

**I succeeded thanks to flickr. Anyone who's interested should look here as there are some genuinely stunning shots


Simon Dennis said...

Somewhat topically, you may have seen press coverage about Robin Hood Gardens in London, and the growing pressure to try and List it, in order to preserve it.
There's a lot more info at

On a more Scottish Theme, St. Peter's Seminary (as featured on BBC's Restoration) looks as though it might stand a chance of survival - at long last...

Patrick said...

Hello Si, long time no hear... how've you been?

Thanks for those two - Nice to hear Robin Hood Gardens' future is looking less bleak than it was when last I heard of it. As for the Seminary I must have missed that ep of Restoration (I only really tuned in properly for the Kinloch Castle one to be honest out of a personal interest in the place) but I'd never actually heard of the place! Looks fascinating though so fingers crossed the scheme comes together.

PS you mistyped your LiveJournal URL: LJ uses a funny format - http://username.livejournal.com.