Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Farewell to the "Get Carter" brute

It was with great sadness that I recently read about the demise of the "Get Carter" Trinity Square Car Park in Gateshead, England. I wish I had been there to say my goodbyes to it.
The Trinity Square structure was nicknamed after its appearance in the 1971 British gangster film Get Carter, in which Michael Caine throws a corrupt property developer (played by Bryan Mosley) off one of the parking garage's top floors. Many fans of the film, and of Michael Caine, have long defended the carpark's iconic existence. The assistant editor of Empire magazine lamented, "There are so few iconic British film locations and this is one of them. If you are a Michael Caine fan... it would be one of the places where you would go to worship at his altar."
Many residents of Gateshead, however, despised it. To be fair, it is a spooky building, built in the architectural style known as Brutalist by architect Owen Luder in 1968. In this article, the parking garage is referred to as a "concrete brute." You can't argue with that. The building is a monster; it looks like the monster that ate Gateshead.
But that, I think, is what also gave the building a strange sense of beauty. How could you not love something so big and so strange? There were those who wanted, and attempted, to save the carpark, but did not succeed.
It is little wonder why given the rusty steel ramparts, the stained concrete, and the fact that the structure's top five floors have been closed for safety reasons for many years. There was even a room on the building's roof that was intended as a restaurant, but a lack of commercial interest in opening an eatery in such a strange location meant the room went unused since the garage's early days. No-one ever found any actual use for it! Even the building's defenders admit that it would cost too much to revamp and restore the structure.
So, given the building's virtual uselessness, it's a wonder it even held on for this long. It did well to live for 40 years.
But I still feel sad to see it go. And I've never been inside it. I've never even seen it with my own eyes. One of my plans was to go to Gateshead one day and experience this building in the flesh. Now I won't get the chance to. I was never personally acquainted with the place, but I still felt an infatuated fascination for it.
Nevertheless, I can't blame residents of Gateshead for wanting it gone. Iconic or not, nothing can change the fact that it is a concrete monstrosity and perhaps never should have been built in the first place. It is characteristic of 1950s and '60s era Britain, in which concrete was the building material of choice—and why so many British town centers are so depressing. The Get Carter park is a notable example of Brutalism, and Brutalism was a socialist style of architecture.
And it's no surprise that socialist architecture lends itself to depressing monstrosities.
So, au revoir to the concrete brute. If only every ugly concrete building in the whole of Britain could come down with it.

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