Sunday, 30 January 2011

OUT & ABOUT : A BRUTALIST URBAN RAMBLE.







"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn" – C. S. Lewis
Life’s experiences, eh? I’ve had a few of those over the years!
Brutalist architecture, ‘Brutalism’, are be’ton brute – raw concrete – structures, cast in-situ out of rough finish concrete between the 1950’s and mid-70’s. These constructions range from vast educational facilities to towering tower blocks and, bus stations. In Sheffield city centre there is the Park Hill ‘streets in the sky’ council housing scheme, nicknamed ‘San Quentin’ by some residents, that I’ve walked past many a time on the way to Bramall Lane. Luckily, I’ve never had the pleasure of being chased through the estates maze of pathways by the B.B.C. and encircled in a dead-end. And down London, there’s Thamesmead, Tavy Bridge estate – a futurist flagship project back in the day - and shopping centre; both featured in the classic flick ‘Clockwork Orange.’ The area is awash with Cubist/Brutalist/Modernist buildings and high-rise social flats that contain a labyrinth of dark underpasses, elevated walkways and sinister subways. Only on my doorstep is, Preston Bust Station, and the reason of my urban ramble.




PBS was cast in the late 60’s and is the largest bus station in the UK. Also, it incorporates a multi-storey car park which has distinctive curved walls. These curve walls were designed due to cheaper costs rather than vertical ones and, they stop you driving into the walls too. But sadly, many a heart rendering successful suicide has taken place off the highest level of the car park. Someone even tried to drive off the exit ramp once in a vain attempt to end their life – he bounced off a lower ramp, and survived. Also, over the past 40 odd years several pensioners have been rundown and killed by buses reversing after taking a shortcut across the apron because they feared using the connecting subways. The station has also been plagued with muggings, alcoholics and drug dealers aswell. So, you could say, the station isn’t top of list of places to visit, for most.
The concrete bus terminus could have featured in a Stanley Kubrick films due to its eerie, awesome magnitude. Because lurking in shadows, behind its slick corners, or lying in wait down one of its dimly lit subways, or stairwells, could be Droogs, waiting to dish out a bit of ‘ultra-violence.’ Fact fans may know, Anthony Burgess, the writer of the famous novel Clockwork Orange, taught at Bamber Bridge Teacher Training College following WW II – Bamber Bridge is situated less than three miles south of where the bus station was later constructed.


I’ve had several experiences on the ‘busie’ over the period of its existence too: I ‘titted-up’ one of my first girlfriend as I threw my tongue down her throat at the tender age of 12/13 while we waited for different last buses home at 11pm. This after attending a under eighteen disco at the adjoined Guild Hall by overhead walkway and subway. I’d umpteen scraps with lads from different parts of town while waiting for buses too – years later we would become mates at the match. You had also to be on your guard for a group of black guys of varying ages who would dish out beatings if they didn’t like the look of you or you wouldn’t ‘lend’ them 10p. The station use to have a connecting late night black cab taxi rank too, which is now closed. And if anyone dared to jump the queue at three in the morning there would usually be a drunken mass brawl, whether this be lads in shirt and tie, or girls in miniskirts. It didn’t half make good viewing in the moonlit sky, through one eye, as you tried not to drop your takeaway as the early hours entertainment ensued all around you.


Over the years the station has suffered with concrete cancer – the reinforcing iron bars would have expanded due to rust setting in after water penetration through weak concrete batches when constructed - which has been rectified and a new coating added to the main structural frame. Plus other internal remedial work has taken place, though nothing too major. And, there has always been issues with access to the station too. The main aim over recent years has been to create better access, which the council have, this leaving the stations facade looking rather shabby and in a sad state, to say the least.
But the primary reason for my photo shoot was, this ‘brute’ of a construction may be demolished! Redevelopment project plans have been submitted for the centre of Preston which would see the bulldozers erase the landmark from the heart of the city. The 20th Century Society have took up the fight to save the iconic building and want it to be listed, only the council have applied for a Certificate of Immunity from the Government to block such a bid. What will happen to PBS in the future? I cannot say at the moment, but boy, did I have quite a few life changing experiences in and around the place, that’s for sure...
William Routledge.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up William.
    Additional. The bus station is now (2016) grade 2 listed so will remain with hopefully sensitive refurbs.

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