»Form follows feminine.«

Oscar Niemeyer

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“Baroque” brutalism to bite dust

The ill-fated Preston bus station

  • The much-debated, now ill-fated Preston Bus Station (Photo: photolancaster.wordpress.com)   The much-debated, now ill-fated Preston Bus Station (Photo: photolancaster.wordpress.com)

Yesterday the decision was taken “in principle” to demolish one of the most extraordinary brutalist buildings in Britain, Preston Bus Station.

The local council, under pressure to cut its budget, took the decision on cost grounds, with a £300,000 annual upkeep and projected renovation bill of up to £17 million, making it uneconomic to maintain the building, which could otherwise “bankrupt Preston” in the words of one councillor. 

Memorably dubbed as “a baroque cathedral for buses” by Jonathan Glancey in the Guardian when last under threat in 2007, the building was designed by the Building Design Partnership in 1969, and has distinctive horizontal scalloped banding to its vast floors plates − making it look like a fragment of extruded mega-city infrastructure. It was the largest bus station in the UK when it opened, with up to 80 double-decker buses able to nestle under its flanks at any one time − meaning it can daily deal with an estimated 3,000 buses and 56,000 passengers – whilst above it can suck up to 10 football fields-worth of cars, parking on five levels.

It is potentially another high-profile victim of the divide in British public opinion on the merit of much of its 1960s and 70s public architecture − in an on-going icon or eyesore debate − that has seen other key “masterworks” of “Brutalist Britain” knocked down or scheduled for demolition over the last five years. These have included Owen Luder's Portsmouth's Tricorn Shopping Centre (1966-2004), Gateshead Carpark (1967-2010) and Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens housing development in East London (1972), which is currently under the axe.

The bus station − which has had listing refused twice − has been here before, having been threatened with demolition under a city-centre retail regeneration scheme first proposed in 2000, which has since been withdrawn.

And whilst the council, whose figures for the costs of renovation of the bus station were widely questioned, has held the door open to talk to anyone with a sound business case who wants to invest in the existing building, at present the likely future for the building is the wrecking ball.

So here is an elegiac short video by Andy Marshall celebrating the day-to-day life of the building...

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