Westminster councillors have approved controversial proposals by EPR to bulldoze a much-admired Brutalist car park in London’s Marylebone to make way for a luxury hotel
Hopes of a final reprieve for the Welbeck Street multistorey were dashed when the local authority’s planning committee decided to back the redevelopment last night (Tuesday 5).
EPR’s plans supersede an Eric Parry Architects-designed project which was approved in 2017 but later abandoned following a ‘change of vision’ by the client.
The new application had sparked fresh calls from heritage campaigners and architects for the structure’s striking diamond-patterned façade to be saved from demolition.
The Twentieth Century Society said it was ‘very disappointing’ that the car park’s ‘stunning and greatly appreciated’ façade could not have been incorporated into the new plans.
I mean really? Are we as a design profession so ill equipped to handle a remarkable design such as this, that we fill the world with woefully inadequate and banal work fit for a Motel 6? https://t.co/ekbWxBHRys— betadine[sutures] (@kkrobert_68) February 4, 2019
The car park will now be flattened and replaced with a 10-storey luxury hotel with 205 rooms, a rooftop swimming pool with bar, and a ground-floor restaurant.
Responding to the decision, architect Simon Henley, author of the 2009 book The Architecture of Parking, said: ‘Beeching denied us a timetable but he didn’t deny us our heritage. Blampied’s structure was the last great multistorey car park in London and should have been saved.
‘There is much to be learnt from this building for the motor age. It’s deeply regrettable.’
EPR’s design features a circular tower by the hotel entrance, clad with a latticework of bronze fins.
Critic and former Architectural Review editor Catherine Slessor said: ‘It’s lamentable that the extraordinary Welbeck Street car park is to be flattened to make way for another undistinguished dollop of greigetecture.
‘Façadism is rife in London these days, so could it not have been possible to save and integrate the concrete facade? It seems depressingly short-sighted and reductivist.
She added: ‘It’s a sad day for Brutalist aficionados and anyone who cares about the character of the public realm, and sends out a depressing message that such genuinely innovative modern buildings can be simply swept away to make way for yet more contemporary blanditecture. RIP Welbeck.’
Eric Parry’s proposal for the site, which was also opposed by The Twentieth Century Society, was similar in height and massing but featured brightly coloured ceramic cladding on the building’s exterior.
In a report recommending the scheme for approval, Westminster planners said EPR’s design was ‘arguably not as bold and eye-catching’ as the original proposals but described it as an ‘acceptable’ alternative design approach.
Councillor Gotz Mohindra, chair of Westminster’s planning committee, said: ’The new hotel will be a positive addition to the local area, creating jobs and making the West End even more attractive as a destination, benefiting local businesses.
’Welbeck car park has been historically underused, especially given fewer people are now driving into central London.
’We know some people may like the current building given its design, which is why we carefully considered all views when we granted permission for this scheme back in 2017.’
The car park was built between 1968 and 1970 for department store Debenhams and was designed by Michael Blampied and Partners. Its façade is made of interlocking precast diamond-shaped panels.
In 2013, the Design Museum included the car park in an exhibition celebrating lesser-known architecture in London. However, In 2015 the building was assessed and rejected for listing by English Heritage (now Historic England).
The loss of a brilliant piece of design for yet another identikit development in central London. https://t.co/MEAFm5yPOW— Liam Herbert (@liamherbert) February 4, 2019
Jon Wright, heritage consultant at Purcell
’The Welbeck Street car park is the most beautiful in London, there’s no argument about that. Built in 1970 by the little known Michael Blampied and Partners who designed a number of commercial and residential buildings in the 1960s, this is car park as civic monument and the interlocking geometric façade is an art form in its own right.
We aren’t yet fully ready to keep these buildings, even if we are ready to hang them on the wall
As the wider tide turns and posters and cushions are adorned with its instantly recognisable pattern, the building itself falls prey to the same old forces. As an expression of our dualistic approach to the appreciation and protection of Post-War architecture, its loss seems like a retrograde step, but it shows we aren’t yet fully ready to keep these buildings, even if we are ready to hang them on the wall. This is a hugely regrettable loss, no matter how well-known the architect of the replacement.