Welbeck Street Car Park was born out of a requirement to provide parking facilities for the new flagship Debenhams store on Oxford Street, London. But what Michael Blampied and Partners built in 1970 from this humble brief was a strikingly beautiful and well-designed place for parking cars. I still remember the joy of walking round the corner behind Debenhams and seeing Welbeck for the first time. That was back in 2013 when I started photographing it for my Beautiful Brutalism project. I instantly fell in love with its unusual prefabricated tessellated façade. I had never seen a building like it before. Although it was built in 1970, its design seemed undiluted and unique, even today.
It was big, bold, and unafraid of its brutalist roots. When it was first built it attracted a lot
of coverage from the architectural press. In 1971 Building magazine wrote, ‘Blampied’s design put
aesthetic quality and structural ingenuity on a par with functionality creating a striking yet eminently practical building.’
Fewer than 50 years later Welbeck was sold to developers. Shiva Hotels planned to demolish it and build a hotel on the site. After several failed attempts to get this remarkable building protected by being listed, the inevitable happened.
On August 10th 2017 Westminster Council approved its demolition. KM Heritage Consultants wrote ‘[Welbeck] has no particular aesthetic significance and its harsh geometry and alien appearance detracts from the settings of nearby heritage assets’. Instead of being heralded as an example of exceptional brutalist architecture in the UK, it finally closed on the 3rd July 2018, and demolition started in April 2019. Today on the site there are no traces left.
Feeling powerless after numerous failed attempts to save it, both as a photographer and an admirer, the only thing I felt I could do was to photograph it. So, in March 2017 until June 2019 I started to regularly photograph this iconic and beautiful car park. This project was the only way I could preserve it.
It was always a hope to turn this project into a book and during the lockdowns of 2020 and early 2021 I had the time to create it. I have been working closely over the last few months with the amazing graphic designer, Emily Macaulay of Stanley James Press on the design and layout of the book. We wanted to use the colours found in the car park for the cover and we decided to use the space left in- between the tessellated concrete polygons of the now iconic facade to create the pattern. The images are laid out to make you feel as though you are walking through the car park from outside then in, and finally back out. We have also placed the yellow lines found on the car park floor and barriers throughout the book. Images of the front cover and a few pages from the book can be seen below.
Fortunately, Dr Barnabas Calder, senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Liverpool a huge advocate of brutalist architecture very kindly wrote a foreword for this book. He has been a great supporter of this project and it's great to have his thoughts about Welbeck and brutalism in a wider context to accompany my photographs.
I hope in some small way this project and resulting limited edition book keeps the memory of the stunning Welbeck Street Car Park alive and change people’s views on brutalist architecture, to reuse and love these buildings rather than demolish them.
The book is currently sold out.