Stockwell Bus Garage: London’s most important building
Modernist architecture is unpopular in London, but a one-man campaign has brought a bus garage to popular attention. Could it be London’s most important building?
Stockwell Bus Garage in South London was designed by Adie, Button and Partners, with the engineer A E Beer, and was opened in 1952. It is 120m long, with a single roof supported by ten shallow arched ribs. When it was built it could house 200 buses - making it the largest unsupported area under one roof in Europe.
Modernist architecture has powerful critics
This style of architecture has long been the target of architectural critics like Prince Charles. His attacks on the concrete ‘carbuncles’ across London traumatised the architectural community, and he described a spate of proposed skyscrapers as "not just one carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend, but a positive rash of them that will disfigure precious views and disinherit future generations of Londoners".
But its supporters are fighting back
But Londoners are fighting back against these views. Most modernist buildings in London are domestic (housing estates), industrial, rather than those typified by the chain of cultural buildings near the South Bank. Because of this, they are more popular with those who live in them, then than those who look at them.
The main supporter of the garage is the author Will Self, who has written articles and spoken at debates to argue “to an informed audience and a panel of architectural experts that Stockwell Bus Garage, far from being a dull lump of municipal concrete, is in fact London's most important building.” He also lives nearby.
Unsurprisingly, Prince Charles’ favourite building is a traditional (and boring) civic hall, built in the neo-grecian style. He’s a bigger fan of the palace than the garage. But regardless of the style, there’s a better reason to support the recognition the bus garage is receiving - and one that explains why a Prince might not understand its significance.
As Self puts it, “Museums, art galleries and office buildings are all very well but there are sound reasons for believing that for a building to be truly important it must embody the city's functional life. We aren't all art lovers or plastic piano players but we all ride on the bus.” All of us, except a Prince.
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