Monday, 30 December 2013

Preston Bus station

Extract from British Brutalism blog

Preston Bus station was built in 1969 by architects Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of the Building Design Partnership. It was publicly funded by Preston council and occupies a large rectangular site in the city centre. It houses the bus station in a grand double height area on the ground floor and over 1,000 car parking spaces above. When it was opened in 1969 it was the largest bus station in EuropeIt has always been a controversial building especially in recent years with some considering it a 'eyesore' whilst others consider it a brutalist masterpiece. Its heavy use of concrete sits it comfortably in the brutalist school of architecture however the elegant curves of the balconies soften its brutalist image. In my view it is one of the most elegant post-war buildings in the country.  

The building from the outside is distinguished by the sweeping four tiered (five tiered at the rear) concrete jettied balconies which house the car park above the bus station. Even someone who despises brutalist architecture cannot fail to be impressed by the vastness of the space which the building occupies. I think the design would be much diminished if a straight concrete wall had been adopted like originally planned.The ground floor on both sides is used as docking area for the buses with 80 individual stands. 

Inside the building retains many original features, mostly due to its neglect and lack of modernisation over the years. However as quality materials were used in the building they have lasted well over 40 years. Of particular note in the interior is the flooring, which is Pirelli used in formula 1 tyres, the woodwork which is the African hardwood Iroko and finally the iconic white tiling used through-out the building from Shaws of Darwen. The building is accessed by three subways or via an entrance on the front facade. The interior of the building consists of two long open halls where passengers stand (separated by characterful African wood barriers) and wait for their bus. The two halls are separated by facilities including: toilets, a cafe (with authentic 1970's bright green chairs), information and ticket areas and offices for staff above, Also between the two waiting halls at either end are some small shops allowing one to have a haircut whilst one waits for their bus. Another distinguishing feature of the interior in my view are the original clocks which before the large and unsympathetic signs were put in (out of shot on picture above) dominated the view down the building (see above). Above the bus terminal is four/five stories of car parking which are less distinguished compared with the bus terminal and are not unlikely many other car parks of the era. The stairwells (of which there are four) give access through-out the building and continue the use of white tiling although unfortunately like many other car park stairwells the stench of urine is overwhelming. The 20th century society describes the bus station as one of the most significant Brutalist buildings in the UK.


It has been put forward twice for listing by the 20th century society and English heritage but refused both times. Its lack of legal protection leaves it vulnerable to unsympathetic alteration and demolition. It was first proposed for demolition in 2000 but was fortunately saved when the £700m Tithbarn shopping development collapsed in 2011. However plans for demolition have re-surfaced recently and after a vote was carried by Preston council on the 7th of December 2012 it was decided to demolish the bus station. The main (flawed) argument for demolition is due to the high costs of modernising and maintaining the building. Demolition which could cost £1.8 million could soon begin even though there are no plans for its replacement and the site is earmarked for a bleak open car park which will undoubtedly give the area a more negative image. This seems vaguely reminiscent of the 1960's when fine Victorian buildings were leveled as they were out of fashion and yet the sites laid empty for years sometimes decades. Another argument used has been that it is in the wrong area of the city which is no reason to demolition a perfectly good building, it is a very wasteful approach. 


Public opinion is split on whether to remain or demolish this powerful brutalist statement which is no doubt the most recognisable building in the city. Although opinion is split it was recently voted the most popular building in Preston by residents. The future does not look bright for this 43 year old icon of the city, but there may still be time for the building to be saved. The building is enormously importance for the image of the city of Preston which is full of other examples of Brutalist architecture such as the guildhall and market. It is by far the best example of Brutalism in the city if not one of the best in the country. It also has high value for the tourist industry, it is internationally known building and features in global books of architecture and is one of the 1001 buildings to see before you die (mark Irving). The loss will be a disaster for the city and its reputation by the arrogant Councillors who do not appreciate its architectural importance.   

The bus station is such a unique and unusual building I feel that there must be an alternative to demolition, surely it can be modernised for its current use or adapted for a new one? Someone I encountered when visiting the building suggested a public roof garden, which is an idea I really like. It is this type of creative thinking which the building needs so it can be adapted for a new use. A roof garden would be amazing as the building has a splendid panorama view of the city, It could be enriched by a roof terrace cafe and be a major tourist attraction. If the bus station was to be made redundant shops could be inserted into the docking areas, the car park could be retained as there is still a high demand for parking in Preston, just an idea? If architects sat down and thought about adapting the building I'm confident a new suitable purpose could be found. It is a shame that Preston council are so narrow minded!

April update- Another application for listing has been presented supported by English heritage and RIBA. However an application has been made by Preston council to block attempts at listing the bus station. The future of this iconic building is still hanging in the balance

To help save this building sign the petition (left on the links bar), write to the council in protest or tweet to bring attention to the plight of this building!

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