Although London is attempting to crack down on the number of cars in the city, there was a time when car parks were a much needed resource. One such car park, designed by Michael Blampied and Partners in 1970 sought to service customers of Debenhams’ new flagship department store on Oxford Street – a requirement of Westminster Council’s regulations at the time to provide parking facilities.
Tucked between Welbeck Street and Marylebone Lane, the magnificent brutalist structure has not only provided much needed car-parking space in the centre of town but more importantly been an inspiring reminder of how crucial imaginative architecture is within the urban sphere.
But now that ideal is to be flattened – quite literally – as London’s Westminster council have sealed the car park’s fate and given the go ahead for its demolition, much to the distress of architecture lovers and Londoners alike – the writer of this article included.
Back in March this year, Historic England decided not to list the car park stating: ‘While the car park on Welbeck Street stands out nationally as an exemplar of 1960s car parks, it does not meet the very high bar for listing buildings of this date’. This in turn spurred current owners, LaSalle Investment Management, to sell the site, paving the way for an Eric Parry Architects-designed hotel with a spa, restaurant and roof terrace.
Although London may be home to a plethora of brutalist buildings unfortunately not everyone, including those in positions of authority, see the importance of securing all of their futures.
What makes Welbeck stand out is its distinctive diamond-shaped concrete exterior. Car parks at the time tended to lack any vision and were built to purely serve a function. Whereas Michael Blampied approached the design from an innovative standpoint. In 1971 Building magazine said it: ‘Expresses both the function and the construction in a dynamic and visually exciting structure’.
So with little time left to appreciate this wonderfully individual and characteristically London building, be sure to make a detour to catch one last view of this much-loved London gem.
What to learn more about Brutalism? Then you must read: ‘Ornament Is Crime’ Celebrates the Best Modernist Architecture in the World.