Opposition is growing to the massive multi-storey car park slated for Central Milton Keynes, which, if permitted, would blight a particularly lush and promising part of MK. In this guest column for Xplain, design historian Carola Holz considers its impact.
A TRAGIC END TO CENTRAL MILTON KEYNES?
By Carola Holz
Twenty years after Prince Charles’ criticism of modern British architecture the term ‘carbuncle’ has regrettably returned in the current debate about a proposed multi-storey car park in Central Milton Keynes. The site is at the eastern end of the Milton Keynes Shopping Building and, crucially, next to Campbell Park.
Since the practical aspects of the project have been discussed elsewhere, this article expresses views purely from a design history perspective.
The ‘much-loved friend’ this time round is not an iconic national gallery in London, but a modernist icon at the heart of Central Milton Keynes; the shopping centre. Built in the late seventies it follows the tradition of Miesian architecture with its steel-frame construction; an elegant skeleton on a 600 mm planning grid with glass cladding. Reflecting glass panes are used to reflect internally the extensive landscaping of the arcades, a carefully chosen selection of hardy and non-hardy plants in accordance with daylight supply, and externally the plane trees of the city centre.
Landscape architecture was essential to all planning in Milton Keynes. The integration of the largest building in the city centre into the strictly symmetrical street layout was paramount to the architects’ plans and those of the urban planners at the time. The formality of the street layout is emphasised by four rows of London planes running alongside the boulevards. At the eastern end, where the building is set back, two additional lines of trees underline the symmetry of the planting scheme. The carefully designed landscape architecture extends into the adjoining ground level car park and provides a link to Campbell Park.
Visitors driving up to the shopping centre from the east see the building slowly emerging behind the trees. The reflecting glass panes effectively smooth its modernist appearance by reflecting their green surroundings. The building is part of its ever-changing natural surroundings; a beautifully finished, easy to understand ‘bone structure’ with the unoppressive sense of a sheltering canopy.
However, when the shopping centre was Grade II listed in 2010 the owners lost no time in making their disappointment known, claiming that the decision would impact on the future evolution and growth of the shopping centre. Now they are proposing a very unsympathetic design for a multi-storey car park which simply fits in with their ill-conceived requirements for more parking spaces.
If anyone expected that Grade II listing would result in a respectful new interpretation of the iconic original – they could not have been more mistaken. Despite claiming to have based the structure of the car park facade on the 600 mm grid, the simple elegant structure and unique features of the current building are not at all apparent in the architects’ plans. Perhaps because their grid pattern is filled with opaque, multi-coloured elements this massive car park appears as one impenetrable block.
It de facto obstructs views onto the original facade of the Listed building and bears no link whatsoever to the surrounding landscape. Despite claiming to keep the existing landscape features, closer examination of the plans reveals that a line of trees north of the new building would be removed, thus disturbing the carefully laid out symmetry of landscape architecture at this end of CMK.
If the original building said ‘I’m in tune with nature around me’, this new project shouts domination and self-importance, not only ignoring landscape features but also a nationally important and ‘historic’ building in our city.
It is not just a carbuncle; it is also a door stop. A dead end to any future integration with Campbell Park, and the end of civic aspirations for an iconic building or feature which would complete this crucial part of Central Milton Keynes in a respectful and sympathetic manner.
FOR AN EASY WAY TO SUBMIT YOUR VIEWS TO MK COUNCIL OR FIND OUT MORE, PLEASE GO TO CMK TOWN COUNCIL’S WEBSITE, AND FILL IN THE SIMPLE FORM http://cmktowncouncil.org/