Grist to the Mill

27 March, 2004


On Wednesday 24th March, demolition work began on Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre, a development 'celebrated' for its supposed ugliness. Like a perverse beauty pageant, a large sash draped unforgiving slogans (‘Tricorn down! Portsmouth up!’) over the multi-storey car park, while camera crews and journalists from local and national newsrooms were in attendance to capture the occasion and discuss the Tricorn’s striking appearance. A ‘local dignitary’-type was there to ‘declare the building closed’ and do some reverse ribbon-cutting (hazard tape now instead of trimming), while concrete-munching cranes, poised at the ready, nodded enthusiastically like vultures eager to descend on a carcase.

The Tricorn should be made a listed building and alterations to the fabric of the building banned, not encouraged! The distinctive Trelick Tower in Portobello Road was a notable example of 60s architecture (high-rise housing) and for years it was a sink estate. But times change and with a bit of investment in the area, it’s now one of the most fashionable addresses in West London.

It wasn’t my intention to write at length about this, but The Tricorn will now exist only in pictures; architecture needs to be seen in three dimensions. The Tricorn was probably the best example in the country of a 60s development extending to more than one building (think: The South Bank Centre) but its scale and no-frills brutality were even more extreme than the South Bank. For me, it brought to mind the best efforts of a child equipped with bricks of only two shapes: cylindrical and oblong. Unfortunately, you can no longer view it to see what it brings to your mind, because soon enough it will exist only as a footnote in architecture textbooks. Enormous slabs of stout reinforced concrete made it a sight to behold and a striking example of its time.

I watched the news bulletins and took note of the town planners’ comments, (it doesn’t “blend in”, people deal drugs there, etc), but must everything look like a shiny monument to commerce just to exist? The Tricorn's calamitous fate was not to "look pretty". But so what? It had other virtues, it was bold, uncompromising and interesting (unlike the rest of Portsmouth), and it gladdened my eye whenever I saw it. People deal drugs behind Reading’s Oracle Centre, up the road from where I’m sitting. People will deal drugs anywhere. I was sad to hear about the Tricorn’s demise because it is symptomatic of this country’s homogenisation... I am certain such a thing would not happen in France.

In another fifty years, surely we will regret this.

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