Sixties concrete

Entrance to car park at the Tricorn

The revival of 60s style has not quite reached buildings.  Generally they still get a bad press.  The Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth has now been demolished.  Many more everyday buildings from the 'sixties are still under threat. The sad thing is that as more and more 'sixties buildings get the chop, we are learning to love the style all over again.

The "Retro" style has yet to penetrate the council chamber. Local councils have always been bad on preservation. You can swell with more civic pride over a shiny new development than you can over a well maintained old one. Even Owen Luder's famous shopping centre at Gateshead - featured in the cult film "Get Carter" is under threat. 'Sixties architecture in town centres is well into the cycle of neglect, vandalism and decay. Many buildings are facing destruction. Why not buck the trend and restore a shopping centre or precinct from the 'sixties? Now is the time to act. In ten years' time it will be too late.

The demolition of the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth began on 24 March 2004.  English Heritage decided that it did not warrant listing, leaving its fate to Portsmouth City Council, whom were hell-bent on its destruction. The Council decided not to let the building go quietly. A member of the public was chosen at random, by a radio 'phone-in, to start the demolition. It was accompanied by the 1812 Overture. Why? Because the Tricorn was described, in the 'sixties, as a symphony in concrete similar to the 1812 Overture.

Does this mean that no shopping centres from the 'fifties or 'sixties will be saved? Birmingham's Bullring was demolished in 2002, Coventry's Lower Precinct has been altered beyond recognition, albeit with the retention of a circular burger bar that was deemed worth saving. There are plans afoot to demolish the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre in South London (1965) and even the famous Gateshead Centre, yes the one in "Get Carter" is under threat. (will this come down to the theme from "Get Carter" I wonder(!))

'Sixties architecture has had a bad press from the 'eighties onwards. It was often blamed for anti-social behaviour. However, there has been almost no attempt by local authorities to maintain many properties in good condition. It is almost as if the neglect and vandalism are part of the plan, seeing the eventual demise of the buildings once the public are finally sick of them. The experience of the Tricorn has shown that people are not prepared to look beyond the neglect and decay to see what a restored and rejuvenated 'sixties town centre might be like.

The Tricorn was not without its problems. However, the choice Portsmouth faced was not between the Tricorn as it stood and something completely new, but between a number of imaginative and interesting part-restoration, part-demolition plans and the expensive, protracted process of a completely new development.

The sad news in March 2004 was that English Heritage decided not to list the Tricorn in Portsmouth. (See "Reflections on the Tricorn" ) It seems that public opinion was still against it. The building was perceived as "ugly" by many. This was a short-sighted view based on the taste of the moment. Ugliness, just like beauty, changes with time. In the early 'fifties all Victorian property was considered "ugly". Even by 1960 there was still plenty of advice on how to make a Victorian house look more modern. What did they like in the early 'fifties? The simple elegance of the prefab!

In the 'sixties, most Victorian architecture was ripe for demolition. Without the hard work of the Victorian Society there would hardly be a Victorian building left standing in Britain today. Now it is the turn of the architecture of the 60s. The strange thing is though is that tastes are changing quickly. The 'sixties is well and truly back. In the 'eighties, we decided that the cars of the era should be preserved before they rotted into the ground. Now the fashions are back in the shops. "Retro" is replacing "Art Deco" as the favourite alternative to the DIY superstore look in peoples' homes.

Many towns in the UK were developed in the 1960s. Sometimes it was to replace buildings destroyed in wartime, in other cases it was to give the town a modern image. Many town centres still retain a "sixties" look. However, increasingly this is seen as out-of-date and unfashionable. The aim of this section is to raise appreciation for 'sixties buildings. We love the music of the decade and the cars - why not the architecture?

'Sixties architecture expressed a desire for a future without reference to the past. People had come through the Depression and then the War. They did not want to be reminded of the recent past and still less the gloomy slums of many Victorian town centres. 'Sixties buildings were new, fresh and modern. They were also democratic. The 'sixties was an age when anything seemed possible for anyone. To me 'sixties buildings showed how far we had come and pointed a way to a brighter, better future.

Now is time to celebrate the architecture of the decade, rather than destroy it. Why not restore a sixties shopping centre to its former glory - rather than update it in an unsympathetic way? The town will have something distinctive. People may come from far and wide to look at the architecture and spend some money whilst they are there!

60s town centres

The Bullring, Birmingham

See the old Bullring in Birmingham on YouTube. There are two clips about the Bullring in the 60s. It all looks very sophisticated and glamorous.  In the second clip, Bullring 2, an attendant parks your car for you in the multi-storey, much better than a modern shopping centre.

The Talisman Centre, Kenilworth

The Talisman Centre, Kenilworth, opened 1965

My home town, Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was developed extensively in the 'sixties. The Talisman Shopping Centre was built in 1965 to a design by Leonard J Multon and Partners. Both these pictures were taken in 2003. They show the blue/grey bricks - a popular choice for 'sixties buildings of this type. Flat roofs and mosaic work are also typical of the period. The first shop on the left is now Boots the Chemist. I remember this being Bishop's Supermarket in the 'seventies. Another large shop in the development is Woolworth's. I remember that being there from the early days as well.

Kenilworth had a new library, police station, clinic and a stylish new hotel in the 'sixties. The library and police station used sandstone blocks reflecting the sandstone used to build Kenilworth Castle.

The Talisman Centre, Kenilworth, opened 1965

Another view of the Centre. This shopping centre still has the unmistakable look of the 60s. The white woodwork sets off the darker bricks very well. Overall it is modern and stylish.

Westway Centre, Botley, Oxford

Westway Centre, Botley, Oxford, opened 1969

The Westway Centre, Botley, Oxford was opened in 1969 to serve a suburb of Oxford. It augmented an original block called - Elms Parade dating from the 1930s. One of the original shops was a fish and chip shop called "Seacourt Fisheries". The large store at the back of the development was originally Bishop's Supermarket. This Centre was mildly revamped in the 'eighties. The covered walkway with grey state tiles and spherical lamps date from then.

Seacourt Fisheries, Botley

Cowley Centre, Oxford

Cowley Centre, Oxford

Cowley Centre, now Templars Square, was Oxford's first 'sixties shopping precinct. It was designed by E G Chandler, the City Architect and his successor, Douglas Murray. It was built as an open precinct with shops around a square. A feature of the original design was a modernist fountain composed of several rectangles (now removed). The Centre was served by a large multi-storey car park next door.

Concrete multistorey at the Cowley Centre, Oxford

The design is similar to both the Westway Centre, Botley and the Talisman in Kenilworth, but on a larger scale. The use of blue bricks and concrete was typical of this period, as well as the coloured squares.

In 1989, the square was given a glass roof. An improvement to shoppers, no doubt, but some of the original style has been lost.

Chatham Street Car Park, Reading

Chatham Street Carpark, Reading

Owen Luder described the Tricorn as a Rolls Royce left to rot. (see "Reflections on the Tricorn" and "Tricorn History" ). Chatham Street Car Park is more of a Ford Cortina. Not a great building like the Tricorn, but a stylish building that captured the look and feel of the 'sixties. Like the Tricorn, Chatham Street Car Park has now been demolished.

Chatham Street Car Park was opened in 1968. It was designed by Jan Bobrowski and Partners (Consulting Engineers), who also designed the similar, but smaller, Yield Hall Multi-storey Car Park in Reading. The building had five levels of parking. There were shops and two garages located under the car park. There were four stair wells and a central lift. It cost 875,000 to build and could hold up to one thousand cars.

Chatham Street Carpark, Reading

The new car park had been needed because of increasing levels of traffic in Reading and a lack of parking spaces. Reading had a growing reputation as a leading shopping and business centre and the new car park helped sustain this. At the time it was built, it was one of the largest multi-storey car parks in the country.

When the Yield Hall Car Park had opened a few years earlier, the operators had trouble filling the spaces at first. Motorists were unwilling to pay when they used to be able to park on the street for free. When the car park opened the parking was free for the first week to give people a chance to get used to the layout. Thereafter charges were:

2 hours 1s. 0d.
2-3 hours 1s. 6d.
3-4 hours 2s. 0d.
4-6 hours 2s. 6d.
6-12 hours 3s. 0d.
12-24 hours 4s. 0d.
Overnight parking 1s. 6d.
Chatham Street Carpark, Reading

Motorists paid at automatic ticked machines installed by the managers - Europark. As well as daily parking, contract parking was available for 3 per month. You could pay for your own private space for the month and use it whenever you choose.

Plymouth Centre

Plymouth in the 60s

Plymouth was bombed heavily during the war. This gave planners an opportunity to start afresh in the post-war era. The centre of Plymouth was extensively redeveloped in the 'fifties and 'sixties. (Town Centre right)

Plymouth Civic Centre

Plymouth Civic Centre (left)


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