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Fate of Brutalist car park sealed as Westminster councillors approve demolition

  • 6 Comments

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.

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).

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Comments

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.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Huge disappointment!

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  • This decision really sucks.

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  • Quick let's have a whip around... Such a great building!

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  • Frances Maria

    I am very disappointed in this decision. This is a great building with an interesting façade and should be saved rather than demolished

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  • Good to see it go, even though it’s replacement is somewhere between bland and dismal.

    But... it has low floor to floor heights, with a split level layout reflected precisely in the cladding. So reuse of the facade would be very difficult.

    Most of all though, it is a building which, urbanistically, has killed this corner of Marylebone with its dead ground floor for more than half a century.

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  • I created an account just so I could add my 2 cents... ok this was a full on rant. I agree 100% with the author, the owner of this property is making a huge blunder and has obviously onboarded the wrong architects for the job (honestly the firm that designed that new building should be sort of ashamed... the proportions of the proposed look so similar that why on earth wouldn't you integrate the existing shell??), maybe you lose the rear (in photo) split level portion of the building (responding to above commenter) and design something there that would fit elegantly with the rest of the building, and of course introduce storefronts to the ground floor as desired (responding to same poster.... the idea is not to keep it a garage!!! the existing ground floor height looks well higher than the proposed building so it seems like it would make for very superior and desirable commercial storefronts) , but this is an absolutely gorgeous shell and there are a good number of design firms on your side of the pond that I'm sure could transform into the hottest residential / commercial property in the City. It doesn't even seem like a challenging design problem for chris' sake (perhaps the challenge would be accomodating MEPs and life safety into existing level floor plates but I'm sure there are innovative and not so costly ways to do this... and its not like you couldn't cut up the building in smart ways to accomplish). This building is a quilted gem of architectural design... can't someone who lives there locate the owner and send them some images?... I mean look at the Prada Tokyo is the first thing that comes to mind but probably many exemplars. I'm not going to harp on the Planning council who is doing a disservice to the city... honestly the onus is on english architects as a whole... can't anybody reading this step up to the plate and try to change the owners mind on this? What a goof, what a folly, what a waste of money, what a missed opportunity and seemingly poor investment to not make use of most of the existing structure (even if just keeping the front 2/3 and rebuilding the rear 1/3) (planning council should allow owner to add a few stories at the rear 1/3 of penthouses if that's what's needed to make the project pencil... and if the planning councils instincts are that the existing strtucture is ugly and unfriendly, don't trust your instincts, youre wrong, please don't annihilate our wonderful diversity of creative form and architecture to fit your tepid taste buds... there's enough of that cookie cutter crap on most corners, it has no lasting value, it doesn't inspire, just weakens the mind and spirit... give the existing building a good cleaning, infill with glass and greenery, be creative... it will sparkle... it would be glorious

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