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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Eyesore or gem: Greyfriars bus station
Northampton's Greyfriars Bus Station
Picture: George Pollard

BUILDING SITE
Five controversial buildings - should they stay or go?

The maxim of beauty being in the eye of the beholder is no more true than in people's estimations of modern buildings. To mark Architecture Week, the Magazine takes some of Britain's most controversial buildings to task.


Stand in the shadow of Northampton's Greyfriars Bus Station and sooner or later, somebody will pass by muttering vitriolic abuse about a structure that also incorporates a car park and office building.

It is a brick-and-concrete behemoth that dominates the town centre, described by eminent architect George Ferguson as resembling the "jaws of hell".

Councillor Richard Church, Northampton Borough Council's cabinet member for regeneration, says it is time to push ahead with demolition of a white elephant and replace it with some landmark architecture.

VOTE RESULTS
Should the Greyfriars Bus Station face the wrecking ball?
No, it should stay
 22.95% 
Yes, it should go
 70.51% 
I don't know
 6.53% 
15108 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
But Northamptonshire architect Patrick Duerden argues that it's an important building with echoes of Paris's Pompidou Centre that fits into the architectural tradition of a town that features groundbreaking designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and modernist guru Peter Behrens.

It may not work as a bus station but it could still be put to good use, he says.

DEMOLISH IT - RICHARD CHURCH, NORTHAMPTON COUNCIL

I was just being shown around it to look at some of the problems - water coming through and leaking onto people's cars. To make it have any long-term future you would have to spend a vast amount of money, which people would not accept, especially bearing in mind the loathing it gets. It won't get better, it will only get worse. There is steady deterioration.

FLATTEN OR SAVE?

It was built in the 1970s when there was a very different attitude towards building and development from now. It was thought you could have big solutions. People didn't think in terms of buildings having any character or personality. They didn't relate to human scale.

The bus station is the kind of place you go into and feel you are being subsumed into something. If you walk up to it, it confronts you like a great big wall. It's situated not far off from where the old town walls used to be. It feels like you are facing a wall that's blocking you off from the town centre. You have to go into a dark subterranean walkway.

Northampton's Greyfriars Bus Station
It has been described as the "jaws of hell" (Picture: James Drake)
Some people say it is a functional building, and have you ever seen a good-looking bus station, they are just not things you expect to be aesthetically pleasing. But I know an awful lot of bus stations that are an awful lot less intrusive. You get complaints about what a horrible place it is to use, how dingy and threatening it is.

Some might suggest it is a bit like visiting the House of Horrors in Madame Tussauds. I don't go along with that. I would rather be talking about good things in Northampton.

If you get rid of the bus station you are going to open up a lot more land for development where you could build some true landmark buildings, that could be a real talking point.

KEEP IT - PATRICK DUERDEN, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE ARCHITECT

It is a very interesting building because of what it does. It is a bus station, an office building and a car park. There aren't many buildings like that. It falls into the category megastructure, as described by Reyner Banham, like the Pompidou Centre.

It has this very innovative concrete truss structure and open plan offices. You have got these atria, they are open to the elements and on all four sides there is full-height glazing, these angled big sheets of plate glass. The architectural style of the building relates very closely to James Stirling, widely regarded as being the pre-eminent British architect of the latter half of the 20th Century.

Bus station atrium

Every generation hates the buildings thrown up by the generation immediately preceding. If you go back to the 30s, people hated Victorian buildings. In the 60s everybody hated the buildings of 30s. This is what's happening with the buildings of the 60s and 70s now. People don't like what they stand for - centralised control, social engineering.

My personal feeling is in another 10 years, but certainly in another 20 years, we will feel strongly the other way. We will come to look back to an age where there was a degree of collectivism, where problems were addressed head-on using all the engineering skills we had. Buildings like the bus garage will be seen as the cathedrals of that age. If you go to other countries people already feel very differently about modern architecture.

Everybody knows the bus station because politicians whip it up because the press whips it up, people have been told not to like it. If people use their eyes they will see it for what it is. If you are catching a bus from there it's bleak and grim. The buildings got problems - well, let's address the problems.

Underpass
The underpasses frighten some (Picture: George Pollard)
Another reason to fight against it is the sustainability argument - think of the energy in that building, think of the CO2. So you pull it down, throw it in the ground and build another structure, future generations will be incredulous

Northampton Castle was demolished to make way for the railway station, and the bus station is like a fortification. It's the castle that Northampton lost. It is a real icon for Northampton.

Think Tate Northampton, instead of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, imagine what you could do with the bus station. You could make a fantastic art gallery out of it. You could make something wonderful that brings the life back into Northampton.


Send us your comments using the form below.

I've been watching the progress of these articles over this week and wondering at how little the general public understands architecture. I'm a fan of brutalist architecture so maybe a bit biased but if we knock down every building of this type we'll end up erasing a whole generation of our social history. What's to be built in its place? Surely some sort of 'people friendly' modern comprimise. If we're not careful we'll end up in a country full of olde worlde style Toby Carvery type buildings covered in hanging baskets.
Sam Shaw, Stirling

The bus station is the principle, tangible expression of 1970s Northampton. It's a breathtaking form of bad architecture and has become part public toilet, part doss-house. It is depressing, dirty, smelly, inadequate and houses an entire . It's labyrinthine passageways are breeding grounds for crime.
Richard Morris, Foxearth, Essex (formerly Northampton)

In answer to Patrick Duerden's comment that people always dislike the archtecture of the generation before, I'm not so sure that anyone has ever liked that bus station, have they? Certainly no-one that used it on a regular basis anyway. I can remember going there in the 70s, when it was new, and in contrast to Kettering's open plan bus station, this "modern cathedral" was dark, noisy, echoed of bus engines and stank of diesel fumes, which did not vent away. Yuk. Best thing to do is admit it was a mistake and get rid of it - regenerate the area and get rid of Castle Doom for good.
Gary, Kettering

I grew up in Northampton and remember when it first opened. Wow! As a child I thought the future had arrived and its brill! The way you entered via underground tunnel, straight from the shopping centre then up to the bus stops by escalator. Not quite 'bladerunner' but for a 10 year old boy - fantastic. But now? Oh my! One word - neglect. Should it go? Times change and people dont like to roam under the streets like rats, so yes but I will miss it.
Gary Percival, Milton Keynes

Yes, Patrick Duerden, it immediately struck me with its similarity to James Stirling's infamous brick, glass and steel Cambridge University History Faculty, a building in which I now work - brilliant in concept, a total nightmare to work in and maintain. You can bang on about innovative concrete trusses until you are blue in the face, but if a building ceases to be fit for purpose it should be replaced. End of story.
Sophie King, Cambridge

A 70's child I have many happy memories waiting for the bus and then thought that it was a great building, with the dark corridors and state of the art toilets, there was so much to climb on and slopes that you could skid down. But gradually it has got worse and every time I go back to Northampton it just gets worse and worse. The building has not been looked after and is now very grotty and not at all pleasant to be in. I would prefer it to stay but only if it is done up properly otherwise it should go.
Julie Love, Isles of Scilly

Having grown up in Northampton i can only applaud the call to demolish this oppresive behemoth. The Greyfriars bus station exemplifies everything that is wrong with Northampton. It is an ugly, malevolent building brimming with inner hostility and low aspriation. Northampton deserves to be more than a low grade any-town. Ripping out it's blackened heart will be a step towards achieving this.
Anthony Lewis, Brighton

The problem with these buildings is that they all look grubby. If they were properly cleaned and maintained they might not be so unpopular.
John, Hereford

I work at No. 1 Greyfriars in Northampton. It is a ghastly building. The concrete is crumbling, water pours through the cracks, the lifts don't work, the underpasses are dimly lit and smell of urine - it is a horrid, horrid place to work or spend any time in. These buildings are no longer fit for purpose and they need to go.... the sooner the better!
Kevin Tubb, Northampton

The problem with a lot of these structures is that they've suffered from massive neglect. Buildings seem to be better cared for on the continent - or maybe the clement weather treats their facade more forgivingly - but with a bit of TLC there's no reason why these so-called 'white elephants' (a lazy cliche) couldn't be restored to some sort of former glory. Of course, people seem to struggle to see past what's deemed fashionable at any given time. So damn impressionable are some folk.
James, Twickenham

I went to University in Northampton and one year our exams were held in the offices above the bus station!! It wasn't a particullarly nice experience. Although it is a horrid place - very dingy and quite frightening past about 4 O'clock I would hate to see it demolished - it's a bit of my history! I love the thought of it being turned into an art gallery or something like that - make something beautiful from something ugly!
Jackie, Wolverhampton (Ex Northampton)

It worries me when councillors talk about 'Landmark Architecture', what do they think the bus station was when it was built - a landmark. All that will be created is another eye-sore that the next generation will want to pull down - urban planning needs much more consideration than trying to create the far to overused 'wow-factor'. Why does Northampton need a landmark for landmarks sake anyway? ps. The site of the tricorn in portsmouth (another apparently hated modernist creation) is a sea of tarmac - not impressed.
Steve, Southsea, UK

I met my dad in Northampton bus station about 8 years ago, it's the only time I've ever been there. Your article has just reminded me of what a nasty, dark, cold, damp, unfriendly place it was.
Kevin, Southampton

It really IS dire. Polluted, dark, noisy, virtually inaccessible on foot (except for the tunnels). It does nothing to advocate the benefits of public transport. It needs to be levelled, sharpish.
J J, London

Every town I have ever visited has a bus station! The worst part is the lack of integration of the main purpose and the way people move through them. There are always stair cases used as toilets, nasty corners and walk ways. Designers need to walk more and feel the vibration of what they intend before the concrete hits the ground.
Dave, Chatham Kent UK

It is an ugly building with no notion of what it is. It looks totally out of place, like an aircraft hangar in the middle of town
Tasha, South Coast, formerly from Northamptonshire

I think the building needs some re-designing not necessarily for it to be demolished. Money should be spent wisely. One area of the building that frightens me though is the underpasses. They really look scary and I avoid them (day and night). Something should be done about them.
Busola, Northampton/Northamptonshire

The North East like other areas have had more than it's fair share of concrete carbuncles. People who live and work in these areas, want these hidious impractical eyesores removed. They look and feel intimidating, give nothing to the area aesthetically. So why oh why do we always get someone, who doesn't have to see or work in these constructions of a warped mind, wanting to keep them preserved? Newcastle Library has just been consigned to the wrecking ball, and boy doesn't it make the centre look lighter, roomy and less oppressive.
D Ross, Newcastle

I have never been so intimidate as I was in Nottingham bus station. I am not normally the kind of person that feels threatened but I must say the whole place is just a dystopian nightmare. A real horror. Knock it down and make it an area people can enjoy as well as being functional.
Brian Cunningham, Edinburgh

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