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Well, yes, it was a monstrosity

Southgate shopping centre in Bath was the last of OLP’s big retail developments before recession brought commercial property development to a halt by the mid-Seventies. By now Luder was a marked man. “We used Bath stone but they still called it a concrete monstrosity,” he said.

They pulled down a perfectly good Georgian slum to build that. According to folk tales, had 17 pubs in it…..

Owen Luder was responsible for some of Britain’s most hated buildings. Yet to aficionados of brutalism, he was owed a debt of gratitude for sculptural concrete creations such as the Tricorn shopping centre in Portsmouth and the Trinity Centre multistorey car park in Gateshead.

Here’s the thing. I seriously doubt that he ever lived in anything he or his practice designed. And if he did it wouldn’t have been in brutalist style. There’s a significant antinomianism in British architecture. This is for the proles, we the special will live in something else.

Myself I’d cure the entire planning and architecture systems quite easily. Anyone involved must live in what is built. forcibly.

24 thoughts on “Well, yes, it was a monstrosity”

  1. Never seen the other two mentioned but the Tricorn shopping centre in Portsmouth can only be described as nasty, very nasty. Nastiness done in a very nasty way with an extra helping of nasty.

  2. “Anyone involved must live in what is built.”

    Or work in it if it’s an office. I once had to work in an new office designed for a software company. The lifts were in phase 2 of the building work. Until that was completed (18 months later) the only way to move workstations between floors was lugging them up and down an open plan spiral staircase.

  3. I am one of the few people who quite likes Brutalist architecture. I like the South Bank for example and have always wanted to live in the Barbican. However, all the Loder buildings I’ve looked up were properly horrible, and and now largely demolished.

  4. It’s the corporatisation which grates. The whole development is just chain shops and chain restaurants; there are no independents.

    Ironically, the Americans get it right: You put two big well-known anchor tenants at either end of the mall, then all the little independents in between. Bath Southgate doesn’t do that.

  5. Near where we used to live in rural West Sussex was a striking modernist sugar-cube of a house designed by a trendy architect in the 1930s. It was called “Dragons”.

    Apparently it needed patching up after a couple of years, and every couple of years thereafter, because the flat roof leaked and the concrete crumbled. Someone built a more traditional and very comfortable mock-regency house on the adjoining plot, and called it “St George’s”.

  6. Don’t confuse current Southgate with the one he built. His was demolished, this is the rebuild which is rather better than his.

  7. I like a lot of Brutalism too, although there’s an awful lot of very bad examples.

    The thing is, what else could they build back then? You can’t build small shopping centres. There’s no historic style that allows you to build in the scale required. Georgian is lovely, but it doesn’t scale up to industrial sizes. You can’t afford to build beautiful car parking buildings. It’s never going to be cost-effective.

    It’s not like modern shopping centres or car parking buildings are beautiful, to be honest. The difference is that we’ve got used to them over the decades, whereas the scale of Brutalism shocked at the time — and we have got a bit better at hiding them behind facades.

    That’s why in places like France, where no-one builds domestic buildings in modernist styles, the public architecture is still generally industrial/brutalist. There’s a small range of styles available for genuinely big buildings. Lots of people decry them, but they can’t come up with anything better.

  8. I seem to recall that Erno Goldfinger, who inspired the Bond villain, actually did live in the Trellick tower.

  9. Exception probat regulam and all that: from wiki

    “In addition he designed a number of small houses in the borough of Lambeth including 26–28 Groveway (1953) and 76–78 Herne Hill Road (1954), one of the latter was occupied by Luder upon completion.”

  10. “Apparently it needed patching up after a couple of years, and every couple of years thereafter, because the flat roof leaked and the concrete crumbled. Someone built a more traditional and very comfortable mock-regency house on the adjoining plot, and called it “St George’s”.”

    It’s a common problem with wanky architecture. What some architect can imagine isn’t always a good, long-term building. It’s why most Sterling Prize nominees are government buildings. Someone in government doesn’t really give a fuck if maintenance is bad in a decade’s time.

  11. There is a multi storey carpark in York that is cleverly designed to fit in with its surroundings. I always thought that it was an excellent piece of architecture since such carparks tend to be very ugly.

  12. I was a student in Portsmouth in the mid 1980s. I lived in Southsea but would often have to go the Tricorn because for a while it had the only bank ATM that accepted my card. In the evenings it was a strange, windswept empty place. The kind of scene we see in cheap science fiction films to denote a dystopia or a war ravaged city. Quite good bands played in a nightclub there during the week, which was just as bleak inside as the outside was. I remember that the manager would walk around the dance floor with an air conditioning unit, which when it warmed up ( or copled down) would belch pink dry ice smoke.

    Bath Stone – My house has bits made of this material. Unfortunately I live by the seaside and it recently cost me a large fortune to have it renovated, as it is totally unsuited to the conditions. Buildings set back and up the hill are extensively built with this stone and look very elegant. They all Late Victorian/Edwardian though.

  13. Bloke on M4
    October 25, 2021 at 10:05 am

    You’re reminding me of the local library. It’s certainly a modernistic style building. The librarians have been putting tarpaulins over the books at the back of the place to protect the books from the rain.

  14. I have a lasting memory of workng in an “Award winning” building. It was perfectly normal to come in in the morning after heavy rain to a chair and keyboard full of water.

  15. Thing about traditional architecture is it’s the result of lots of experiments over many years to find out what works. So what you see now is the designs that worked. The one’s that didn’t they stopped building & those they had built fell down or were pulled down. So you could say that modern architecture is just going through the same evolutionary process. Trouble is modern architects don’t seem to learn from the past.

  16. “I seem to recall that Erno Goldfinger, who inspired the Bond villain, actually did live in the Trellick tower.”

    It was his earlier Balfron Tower. For two whole months.

  17. The Original Jonathan

    Never heard of the Trinity Centre car park? Philistines! It’s the car park Michael Caine chucked Brian Mosley off.

  18. Goldfinger lived for a long time at 2 Willow Rd Hampstead, which he designed. Now owned by that woke organisation that we have cancelled our membership of. The house is liveable in, but the style doesn’t age well.

  19. There’s a car park in Bury that’s called (or used to be called, I haven’t been there for years) the Hanging Gardens of Bury. Essentially window boxes under all the fresh air openings. It worked quite well to improve the carparkishness.

  20. The St James’s Centre: “The Brutalist architecture of the government offices, atop the shopping centre, made it one of Edinburgh’s most unloved buildings …” Completed 1973, demolished 2016. Abysmal.

    In Cambridge there’s the History Faculty building – bits keep falling off but the real problems are “it leaks, it’s too bright, too hot in summer and too cold in winter.” … ” A 1968 review noted that environmental controls might be difficult to operate by humanities-oriented occupants. Expensive modifications were necessary to render it usable, and in 1984 the university came close to pulling the whole building down.” Quite good-looking (to my taste) but hopelessly impractical.

    Then there’s the Law Faculty Building where the acoustics are (or were) so bad that they have (or had) a bloke at the door to tell entrants to keep their voices down because otherwise the library became nearly unusable.

  21. Someone needs to remind whoever regulates the environmental building standards that people are part of the environment.
    Worked in one a few years ago and everyone wore sunglasses and headphones as it was designed to maximise natural light so any partitions that might block sound weren’t allowed.
    Oddly I drove past it once at 2 in the morning and all the lights were on despite the building being empty

  22. “Never heard of the Trinity Centre car park? Philistines! It’s the car park Michael Caine chucked Brian Mosley off.”

    Ah, a true classic of British cinema containing one of my favourite film quotes:

    ‘You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me its a full time job’

  23. The late, very great Auberon Waugh, when asked the correct social response to when someone told you they worked as an architect, replied that the only correct response was to punch them in the face, as hard as possible.

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