UK: Stop demolishing your Brutalist architecture: Preston Bus Station

UK: Stop destroying your Brutalist architecture! Preston Bus Station

Petition to prevent demolition of Preston Bus Station

The Preston Bus Station is the last in a long line of Brutalist buildings which the UK government has prevented from listing and is subsequently threatened with demolition. In spite of architects and architectural critics voicing their concern, again and again this kind of architecture is treated as sitting ducks in the UK. A factor which may explain this willful neglect, of course, is that this architecture often had a specific social agenda and reflected the belief that society could be changed for the better through architectural intervention. With the deliberate and ongoing deconstruction of the welfare state and budget cuts left and right it is now easy to argue that you can no longer afford a ghost of the past and to duck responsibility for not maintaining the building properly in the first place.

The building was designed by the Building Design Partnership (BDP), was built to last, and was intended as a social hub, with shops, ample waiting areas, parking etc. Testament to its social success is the fact that it was voted the most popular building of Preston.

The case for demolition does not stack up from a financial as well as an environmental point of view. Shockingly, however, the Lancashire County Council is adamant to continue with demolition in spite of the offer of a local millionaire to invest!

The question has therefore rightfully been asked by the architectural critic Owen Hatherley as to what the motives of the Lancashire County Council really are.

If you want to keep up to date follow this blog.

Please help to save Preston bus Station by signing the petition.


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About thomaswensing

Architect and Activist. Over the years I have become increasingly aware that I need to actively engage with the issues I care about. My passions and irritations are many and change often, but a red thread is always a deep concern over the fact that capitalism does not work as it is claimed it does, democracies only serve the needs of the few and environmental resource depletion and pressures continue to mount. I think it is time for citizen's activism to create pressure, to bang on the doors of established powers and interests until we get it right. As you will notice, if you continue to follow my blog over time, there are certain fetishes I have; modernism, social housing, the avant-garde. I propose to recuperate the Modern Project from the dustbin of history and re-establish the link between social engagement and architecture. Watch it all come down needs to be followed by let the good stuff blossom!

7 responses to “UK: Stop demolishing your Brutalist architecture: Preston Bus Station”

  1. Ian Abley says :


    You suggest Preston Bus Station is being demolished because it had a social agenda.

    What was that social agenda claimed at the time?
    Did the Preston Bus Station ever fulfil that social agenda?
    Has it stopped doing so?

    Other than Owen, you, BDP, and a campaign of architects or preservationists is anyone bothered that the planning authorities in Lancashire want rid of Preston Bus Station? That it will become another gap site for redevelopment.

    If not that rather suggests any previous or present social agenda is merely a matter of academic interest.

    Thanks to the planning law Lancashire planning authorities have the power to do what they like. If they don’t like Preston Bus Station, t isn’t considered worth listing, and has no public importance, then are you not wasting your time?



    • thomaswensing says :

      Hi Ian,
      With respect to the social agenda I am implying, that is not so much different from what Koolhaas was saying in BD:

      He praised brutalism but said: “There’s almost a global consensus that any architecture from the late sixties, seventies and eighties should disappear from the face of the earth because it’s so harsh and presumably so socialistic.

      “But we should keep them and treasure them and see them as emblems of a period when architecture was interested in good things.”

      Naturally it is up to the UK to do whatever they want with their Brutalist architecture, but even without the so-called academic argument I make of treasuring your Modernist legacy, there is always the sustainability argument.

      Why demolish the Preston Bus Station, Robin Hood Gardens, deface the South Bank Centre, when light-touch renovation options are often better approaches? In each of these cases the architecture it is replaced with, or ‘complemented’ by, is sub-standard low-quality developers tosh, shopping mall architecture.

      The argument that Preston does not have the money may be true:
      But what is not considered with this “demolish and redevelop approach” is that the new buildings will fall apart in 20 years and you end up with the same problem.

      The last argument you make that the Council have the power to do what they like is neither here nor there, theoretically they still should be representing their constituency’s best interests. Spending money on a mediocre replacement building is not in the people’s best interest, the more so since it was voted as the most popular building in Preston.
      The fact that they don’t like to have (what is agreed by experts world-wide to be a Brutalist landmark) does not mean that they don’t have to take care of it.

      Finally, the very reason why Brutalist and Modernist buildings aren’t considered worth listing in the UK is a political act we should be highly critical of. The neo-liberal Tory consensus which has been plaguing the UK for forty years is quite adamant to rid itself of symbols of the welfare state. My argument is that these buildings are worth listing, but governments don’t do so because they like to balance their books by selling them off to developers – it’s all political. So no, I am not wasting my time.

      • Ian Abley says :


        Preston Bus Station is NOT a symbol of the welfare state, except in your mind, and I think too Owen’s.

        It was built at a time when Preston hoped it had a dynamic economic future. If anything it is a symbol of a shattered dream of a better future. It represents a promise not delivered on by Labour party after Conservative party in turn.

        The Bus Station was built at a time when the economy had a brief dynamic, based in the post-war boom, which was based on the austerity of the 1940s and 1950s, which was based on the Second World War.

        There was no Golden Labour Age as you imagine.

        People hoped that such buildings would be a manifestation of their civic pride, having seen a previous generation pay so dearly.

        Today Preston is in need of a dynamic economy, as is much of the North West of England. Demolition might create another gap site to infill with something that a developer can get a return on, but Preston, like Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, Runcorn, or Rochdale are full of gap sites and regeneration opportunities.

        But where is the capital? In a bank? Not much good there…

        Neither knocking over Preston Bus Station or keeping it will solve the underlying problem.

        However if only the elite of preservationists are bothered to keep it, including Owen, what does that tell us?

        Koolhaas might equate Brutalism with “Socialistic” endeavour, and preservationists might share his fantasy of history, but that line of thinking truly is a waste of time.

        You’ll tell me next that Owen Luder or Richard Seifert were communists.



      • Graham McKay says :

        This chimes with what I’d always thought about any building with a social agenda being demonised in the UK and “Brutalist” and “concrete” similarly demonised as two symbols of that agenda.

        I just wanted to say that not too long ago social housing used to be known as social housing – presumably because of its social agenda. These days it’s just called “affordable”.

        This language shift is even worse than stamping out past evidence of a social conscience – it makes it more difficult to even refer to social housing in the future except as some historic phenomena.

        Of course, in the past it used to be called worker housing and the goal was to provide liveable and affordable accommodation for society’s disadvantaged. A century on, we’ve almost managed to work our way back to how it was before then.

  2. thomaswensing says :

    Ian, I will try to unravel and answer to your comments one by one. First off, the insinuation that either I or Owen are elitists reminds me a bit of the way in which the Communists in the City Council of Stuttgart voted against the Weissenhof Siedlung because it was proposed by the Socialists. It’s basically one lefty calling the other not left enough. If you try to paint me with that brush you are missing some of the valid points I try to make.
    It is not just the elitist preservationists, as you like to call them / us, who are concerned. If you are following the blogs, there are many citizens who express their opinion on this issue. Most people in Preston arguably have other things to worry about, which tends to happen in a recession, but again I don’t see how that invalidates the argument made by the ‘preservationists’.

    Secondly, the association of Brutalism with the welfare state is not just a figment of my, or Koolhaas’s or Owen Hatherley’s, imagination. When governments, either central or local, commissioned civic projects throughout the nineteen fifties and sixties, (and still had their own architect offices to boot), the style of choice was often Brutalist. The Hunstanton school, which was won in competition by the then young Smithsons, is something which can not happen today. As you know the government is quite keen on identikit schools these days, designed and built by commercial companies, rather than promoting good design and young architecture offices. Banham, in his “The New Brutalism – Ethic or Aesthetic”, specifically highlights the connection between Brutalism and a Leftist political orientation.

    Naturally there were commercial offices, such as BDP and Seifert, which also designed Brutalist buildings, but as a generalization it is fair to argue that these decades had better civic patronage and that this had to do with a more socially oriented government. To commission Elizabeth Hall through the LCC or to ask Denys Lasdun to do the National Theatre is reflecting a completely different ethos than the way in which Thatcher gave away the land of Canary Wharf to the banks for development.

    I don’t know where you have been, but when you read Owen Jones, there are some fairly convincing statistics that the United Kingdom has rapidly moved away from being a relatively equal society to being one of the most unequal societies in the West. By comparison to what we have today the 50s and 60s were, indeed, Socialist.
    You may argue, like Marcuse, that the Welfare State is just a means to retain the status quo of the Capitalist system, but that is another story.

    Finally I agree with you that the underlying problem is economic. I have to say, though, that I anticipate – just like Owen – that knocking Preston Bus Station down will just leave a ‘development site’ waiting to be developed ‘until the market picks up’. Irrespective of the labeling of Preston Bus Station as a Brutalist, Socialist – or whatever else – building; that would just not make any sense. It is like throwing away your bicycle because you cannot afford to fix a puncture. I also understand from the blogs that the Preston Bus Station still makes a modest amount of money.

    As far as economic development is concerned – the gist of your argument – I do not know. An interesting comparison may be why Germany still has a thriving industrial base and in the UK this base has been wiped out. I am not an expert, but it seems that policy is in large measure the culprit; it sped up decline. The promised neo-liberal economic miracle will not happen on the back of it.

    • Ian Abley says :


      There has indeed been no neo-liberal economic miracle, just as there was no social democrat miracle. I’m not hoping for miracles.

      I like elitists. They want to be the best at something.

      I also use a lot of buses.



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