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Preston Bus Station: Ethics not aesthetics March 4, 2013

Posted by jennibarrett in Uncategorized.
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It is, by now, a widely accepted premise that Preston Bus Station is a building of architectural significance (see current article in RIBA Journal).  The consensus on its significance is given further weight by the support given by Angela Brady PRIBA and the RIBA President Elect, Stephen Hodder and the recommendations of the 20th Century Society.  Whether it is indeed aesthetically beautiful or not is a separate and more philosophical discussion – possibly one for a future post.
But its beauty and architectural significance is only one facet of the issue.
There’s the question of value.   What is it that we value in our city and how do we assess this?

Do we truly value our buildings of architectural significance, our contemporary architectural heritage?  Do we value them enough to prioritise their conservation more highly than the crude outcome of a profit and loss calculation?
Are we comfortable with this commodification of our heritage?

There are many fabulous buildings in Preston.  Let’s look at another.  This building was built in a style which caused much consternation at the time of its construction.  It was built in a Gothic Revival style.  The term ‘gothic,’  originally described a building that was crude, barbaric – ‘brutal.’  Despite the architectural adjective being a term of derision, it eventually  took its place in our stylistic vocabulary.
This Gothic building, despite being disliked by some, was originally built to signify city confidence and social progress.  But now, it’s going to cost over  £1million to renovate and it doesn’t even produce any revenue.
The building I’m referring to is the Grade 1 Listed St. Walburge’s Church, less than a mile from Preston Bus Station.  Its story echoes the plight of the ‘Brutalist’ bus station, another monument described by an architectural adjective that incorrectly infers something fearful and unsympathetic.  I’ve never never met anyone who would dare to suggest getting rid of the bus station’s gothic neighbour & those trusted with its care seek creative approaches to investment and widely promote its renovation to its former glory.  It’s value that transcends  any fiscal analysis and this is confirmed by those who use it as well as those who admire it from afar.


Source:  Paul Melling/Blog Preston


Urban value also embraces the spaces between the buildings.  Do we value our public spaces, our streetlife?  Preston Bus Station  is in public ownership; is used by the public and a unique and people-centric activity happens within it (however socially unacceptable this can sometimes be!).  In a sense, then, it’s not a building at all.  It’s a public space.  It’s a street that happens to have a structure built around it.
If we were debating whether to build on one of Preston’s key public spaces – the Market Square or Miller Park  – spaces which require expensive maintenance; are unlikely to generate much in the way of revenue, yet significant in Preston’s urban life, it would be acknowledged that something is being taken away from the people of Preston – certainly, not without launching some kind of competition to see how the spaces could be improved or to discover a more creative, forward thinking business model.

But this is what’s proposed here.  One of the main ‘streets’ in Preston, one which is iconic, renowned, busy and vibrant is proposed to be condensed, converted and downgraded to something that will be, well,  catastrophically ordinary.

So, back to the subject of value.  To use the procurement  terminology, is it ‘best value’ to remove something that is perceived to be successful in every other way, except monetarily,  without measuring the value of its less tangible assets via full transparent discussion or meaningful consultation with those who use it, or appreciate it from further afield?  Is that even ethical?  And until a full, collaborative, rigorous, creative and forward thinking decision making process has been seen through – and Gate 81 is a brilliant example of that – then ethically speaking, a decision can’t be made.


Source:  Amazon


Brutalism refers not to the imposing form of this style of building, but rather to the resulting aesthetic  linked to a  béton brut, a particular way of using and finishing raw concrete  which was adopted by a group of architects from a particular social and ethical standpoint, who used the béton brut as tool for their structural expressionism.   And  then the term also kind of stuck, thanks primarily to the publication of Reyner Banham’s 1966 book, “The New Brutalism:  Ethic or Aesthetic?”   Brutalism is an architectural style from recent history.  We may not like it now, but perhaps we will miss it in the future.

The debate about the future:death of Preston Bus Station, however,  is not a question of whether the building  is subjectively beautiful or not, but whether we truly value Preston’s future heritage and  how we transparently assess this without getting hung up on its financial commoditisation.  In that sense, this is a replay of 1966 (“they think it’s all over?”).  No, not football.  I’m referring again to Reyner Banham’s significant work.  This decision is a one of ethics, not aesthetics.


Brutal Ethics (Part 1): The Virtues of Preston Bus Station February 22, 2013

Posted by jennibarrett in Uncategorized.
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Recently, I chaired a debate amongst 2nd & 3rd year architectural technology students at UCLan, Preston.  The debate applied the three ethical standpoints described in my last blog post to the future/death of Preston Bus Station.  This added a new perspective to this national dilemma and offered an ethical logic to decision making, rather than a reliance on personal ‘feel.’

The first group presented their discussion applied a system of virtue ethics, using judgement based on personal and/or professional moral character.  Here’s a transcript of this part of the debate:

“We wouldn’t like to see Preston Station be demolished due to its significance.

This is one of the main landmarks, one of the things that makes the city stand out

It’s going to cost more to demolish and rebuild it than it is to leave it there, so it’s better to just leave it there

It’s a profit making building which not only generates a healthy bottom line but whilst employing many it also contributes to 100 of thousands of pounds so it’s good for the economy.  There’s been quite a large public attitude against it being demolished.  There’s been nearly 1500 signature petition calling for a referendum on future demolition.”

It’s also been put forward twice for grade II listing which just shows its importance

A lot of the arguments against it say that it’s ugly and an eyesore but it’s an emotional link for local people.  It has a lot of value for people who live in Preston and I think the Council are overlooking that aspect of its importance to people.

It’s one of the most important buildings in Preston.  It’s been there for a long time now and it’s used by a lot of people.  In a Daily Telegraph online poll, readers voted by 75% to keep it.

If it’s so important and it has been put forward to be listed twice, why hasn’t it actually been listed?

I think due to it being built in 1969.  It’s only been 40 odd years.  Compared to other buildings that have been listed, they are over 100 years old.

But do we work on the basis that anything older than 40 years is more listable?  We don’t have the distance from when it was constructed to actually understand its importance from a historical point of view.

I think the purpose of it being listed is from the design not the year it was built in.   That’s the major talking point.  It’s a bit like Marmite.

But is it good to spend Preston Citizens’ taxpayers’ money to preserve something just because it looks good?

I say it’s such a talking point in the city.  If it was demolished, what would people talk about?  Generations to come will have no recollection of it.

People still talk about the Town Hall by Giles Gilbert Scott, which was knocked down after a fire but was too costly to renovate.  But people still talk about it as one of Preston’s best buildings.

So what’s your view if you had to say yes or no, what would you say?

We’d say no.  It holds value to a large number of people

What do you mean by value?  I value Preston Bus Station because I have memories associated with it but is that a value that can be used?

I think so.  Because there’s heritage value.

Are my values more important because I’m a Prestonian or would someone who comes from Manchester or London if they have a recollection of it, would they….

It’s more of a communal value.  If somebody lives down London, demolishing it isn’t going to affect them as much as local people so it’s more of a communal thing.

But that’s my national heritage.  If they’re going to knock down that lovely castle in Scotland that has that bridge going over the loch that ‘s my heritage too but I don’t live there.

But this is more for local people and isn’t going to affect someone who comes up once a year to stand at the bus station and marvel at it – because people do that.

For someone who doesn’t know much about it, can you explain what’s so special about the building?

It was built in the year when the motor car was the next new thing and it represented the hope of the town so it was the hub of the town.  People would travel to work and would get the bus. The main importance of it was to get people into the town .  This major flagship building was built to show off about the new motor industry.

Preston Bypass:  Britain’s first motorway.
(Note ceremonious hedge removal)

It is a unique design as well.  I’ve never seen a building that looks similar.

It’s very important to look at it in terms of when it was built.  It was built in the late 60s It was at the back end of Beeching and his report, which basically said that the railways didn’t have a future.  So, when you look at Central Lancashire New Town, because this wasn’t just for Preston, this was for the whole of Central Lancashire New Town – and you picked up on the point – that this was a hub where cars and buses would come in and be an interchange for all the other areas.  It wasn’t built anywhere near the railway, but that wasn’t an argument back then because people didn’t think the motorways had a future. And if you think about how well Preston bus station is connected to the M6 and Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, the Lake District, Blackpool  etc.,  it’s in the perfect location.

And is that relevant now?

I think even more so.

It’s iconic

But is it the future?

If you look at H2 the idea of that and it will take Preston off the main west coast mainline anyway so maybe rail travel in Preston is becoming less of an importance, as a result of developments in the next 20 years

Though arguably from a virtuous point of view, as architectural technologists, one of the virtues that we subscribe to is one of sustainability and this is sustainable development – is this symbol of the city, one which is about the car, the bus, motorised transport, is that what we want to use as the icon of the city?

Possibly not but that’s not to say it couldn’t be a hub for electric cars, for electric buses, that we have an integrated transport system that connects the bus station with the railway station, well, that’s where the Preston Tram idea comes from.  But 3 million pounds mentioned for the new upgrade of Fishergate is talked about but then there is no mention of the tram in there.  Short sightedness.  Preston City Council.

Thank you”

Do you agree?  Feel free to post your comments.

I will, of course, blog the remaining two sections of the debate, where utilitarian and rule/duty based ethics were applied.  Soon.