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A brutal end for a brutal building

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Tricorn signElephant poo?
The Tricorn Centre is consigned to demolition to the delight of many and the regret of - well - a few.

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A brutal end for a brutal building - the Tricorn Centre is demolished today.
The Tricorn centre

Iconic? Or just ugly?
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Portsmouth City Council.


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Side view of the Tricoorn centre

The Tricorn hasn't fared well over time.
The Tricorn carpark

However you look at it...
The Tricorn Centre

And they gave this an award?
The shapes of the Tricorn centre

Stalin would have loved it.
A long view of the outside of the centre

Stand back and squint and it still looks awful.
Portsmouth's Tricorn Centre, a concrete sixties shopping complex, inspires strong feelings. In 2001 Today listeners voted it Britain's worst building and that view is apparently shared by many Portsmouth residents. Even Prince Charles, a man who tends to choose his words fairly carefully, described the Tricorn as "a mildewed lump of elephant droppings".

But when the Tricorn's detractors got their way and the building was consigned to demolition a band of supporters began making the case for a reprieve. Catherine Croft, director of the 20th Century Society, describes the Tricorn as "perhaps the most flamboyant of British brutalist buildings". But today, 24 March 2004, is the end of the road for the Tricorn. At 11am it's being knocked down.

We asked the Tricorn's architect, Owen Luder, for a eulogy:

"The Tricorn is a unique example (apart from the “Get Carter” Car Park Center in Gateshead) of the new building type that began to emerge in the early 1960’s as a reflection of the economic explosion that took place in the “you have never had it so good era” that followed the war. Bigger shops, bigger shopping centres, pedestrianised shopping, the rapid growth of car ownership, multi-storey car parking. Architects in that exciting decade faced with new challenges produced new exciting solutions.

The Tricorn was the first three-dimensional answer to the requirement to develop with pedestrianised shopping a surface car park site behind the main shopping street in Portsmouth destined at that time to be a wholesale market with a single floor of car parking over. To lift that wholesale market to an upper level, provide for a large supermarket department store as well as small shops and to integrate pubs, bars, restaurants and nightlife into the central area. To move the Charlotte Street open market into the new pedestrianised Central Square in the spirit if the traditional market town.

Structural necessity required the use of concrete which was expressed positively in the architectural design approach and then left as the main external finish to act a strong neutral backcloth to the cacophony of colour, advertising, noise and clamour generated by the shops and the market place.

For a while The Tricorn was a success. A bustling hive of industry. The favorite haunt for students and a lively place for nightlife. Hence the many heart-warming messages written spontaneously by admirers on the hoarding erected by the developers around what is now the derelict, dilapidated sorry-looking Tricorn.

Listing it would have ensured that that proper objective consideration would have been given to the issues about whether it was better to retain and renovate or demolish and start again. Portsmouth does not know what it will get as a replacement and indeed when that will be built.

The lynch mob has succeeded. The Tricorn has been judged by what it is today rather than what it could be. Architectural heritage and Portsmouth are the losers."

Owen Luder CBE PPRIBA
Architect

We've had a number of emails from listeners. Sadly, none so far appear to be positive. Here's a selection:

I worked in an office that was in the Tricorn, in Portsmouth. It was a damp, cramped and smelly place. Anything that was stored in the top room went mouldy very quickly. The building has been an eyesore. I can't wait for it to go. The only problem is that with Portsmouth's sense of design and foul ups I am not expecting anything other than another Tricorn type fiasco.
From: Tracey Dean

The test of any building is did it serve the purpose for which it was built. The Tricorn was an unmitigated disaster. No-one wanted to shop there. Nobody could trade there. Architectually it has all the the grace and beauty of Hitler's Atlantic Wall and deserves the same fate.
From: John Butler

It was very interesting to hear the views of the architect responsible for the Tricorn Centre. I have often wondered if architects were apologetic for thesixties and by all accounts their arrogance reigns supreme. They seem to feel they may impose their lack of vision on everyone else and completely ignore the negative effect environment has on the psyche.
From: Chris Close

Three Cheers for the demolition of the Tricorn Centre. It was a hideous building the day it was built, and the passing of time has made it much worse. I have lived in many parts of the UK since living in Portsmouth when the Tricorn was built. In all these places I can think of no more ugly edifice.
From: Jasmine Bean


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