Brooding and monolithic, it dominates the skyline, a towering manifestation of the raw concrete power of Britain’s Brutalist school of architecture.
Love it or hate it, nobody would deny that Gateshead’s Get Carter multi-storey car park is an utterly uncompromising structure.
Like many of Britain’s handful of Brutalist buildings, designed mostly in the 1960s in a long-gone era of utopian idealism, the car park immortalised in scenes from the 1971 cult gangster film starring Michael Caine has been widely seen by the public as an eyesore, not an icon.
Today it stands in the way of Gateshead’s 2010 take on town centre utopia – a retail and student village scheme delivered by Spenhill, Tesco’s regeneration subsidiary.
And so on Monday, in the presence of Owen Luder, the car park’s architect and one of the British Brutalist movement’s leading exponents, the demolition squads will start the Herculean task of razing its 34,000 tonnes of concrete slabs. But first, Mr Luder will make a final visit 124 ft up to the structure’s extraordinary rooftop box, built as a nightclub with stunning views across Tyneside, but never used.
The architect, whose Brutalist Tricorn shopping centre in Portsmouth was demolished in 2004, is not sentimental. “I’m pragmatic; cities change and grow. I’ve been a motivator of change all my career.”
But he is vehemently opposed to what he terms “demolition and death by lynch mob”. “The idea of replacing an iconic building with a Tesco store doesn’t really stack up. It’s lack of imagination, lack of vision.”
Mr Luder, whose other Gateshead Brutalist building, the Dunston “rocket” tower block, is under threat of demolition, rejects Gateshead council’s assertion that the car park’s declining structural condition makes repair unrealistic. And he says; “The demand I met in the 1960s with a multi-storey car park still exists today, so why knock it down?”
However, Mick Henry, council leader, says: “We all recognise its architectural style, whether loved or hated, but we’ve long awaited the opportunity to redevelop the town centre to better suit the needs and expectations of people who live and work here.”
Brutalist buildings are made of exposed raw structural concrete, in angular, geometric shapes. The term stems not from brutal but béton brut – raw concrete – the phrase coined by Le Corbusier, the seminal continental architect.
Some British Brutalist buildings, such as the National Theatre on London’s South Bank and Leeds University, have found acceptance, but many of those used – or often unused – by the wider public, such as car parks, retail centres and housing schemes, have become associated with stained concrete and social decay. Tight construction budgets have not helped longevity. The Get Carter car park cost just £200,000 to build as part of a £1m retail scheme. Tesco’s redevelopment, on a bigger footprint, is costing £150m.
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