Southampton, like a lot of cities, has some very good architecture but also some that I dislike.
It seems that the majority of this dates back to the ‘Postmodern’ era of the late 80s/90s.
First up, is The Marlands Centre. I think the critics at the time said it looked like something a child might build out of Lego and that pretty much sums it up really. It was never a major success, due more than anything to its location I guess. It was anchored by Dunnes clothing and that didn’t last long but it’s a Matalan now. The council have made public their intention to redevelop that block in the next decade or so – along with the ASDA and multistorey car park that all seemed state of the art at the time.
Pretty much in the same category is the awful multi-storey car park behind the BBC studios. It looks like the builders ran out of brown bricks halfway through building it and had to revert to beige ones.
Probably the biggest horror of all in the ‘Lego’ category though has to be the Hyde Housing building in St Mary Street. The only positive thing I have to say about that is its symmetrical. The arch shaped support at the bottom looks exactly like something from a Lego box.
In a different category now are Southampton’s main shops in Above Bar. You know the ones, where Primark/BHS and so on are. These were all put up in a hurry after the city centre was devastated by WWII bombing but there seems to have been a missed opportunity to me here. Southampton’s parks are one of its best features yet all the aforementioned shops (except a couple) turn their back on the parks and just have a ‘blind’ facade of loading bays and dark alleyways. The backs of these buildings are at best utilitarian but actually pretty ugly in places.
I don’t think the buildings themselves are ugly, as the white stone facades along Above Bar look fairly decent and perhaps have a vague hint of the International Style, particularly with the metal windows sthat were so popular in those days.
The council has put forward some ideas for redeveloping these shops to reconnect the retail area with the parks and that would make a big improvement to the current situation. However, I am not sure that lesson will ever be learned. Leisure World for example – it has virtually no facade. Just a giant metal box with one small entrance. Now admittedly a cinema is going to have to have blind facades for obvious reasons but it looks like a large version of those shipping containers nearby.
And that brings me on to…those shipping containers. They’re piled up very high along the docks and if laid end to end would probably stretch around the world three times…or maybe not. They’re not particularly attractive and it begs the question of what ‘The Port’ (whoever runs/owns/etc/bored of that now) is trying to hide. A fine backdrop to that shiny new Police HQ nearby.
IKEA and ASDA also have blank facades. Perhaps it is a problem that afflicts retailers who name is made up of four letters.