Is Plymouth’s Architecture Interesting or Just Plain Bizarre?
Recent plans for a new railway station and hotel, commissioned by Plymouth Chamber of Commerce to replace the existing complex, sound very interesting. The existing railway station is bland and mundane, to the point that I can’t really remember what it looks like, despite having been there recently.
The architect’s virtualisation looks fantastic; an arched glass entrance leading to a modern- looking, largely glass building. The idea of this landmark building is to give visitors to Plymouth a sense that they have ‘arrived’ somewhere significant , a feeling they certainly won’t be getting at the moment.
What is a Landmark Building?
What do people mean by ‘landmark’ buildings? If they mean buildings that appear significant or noticeable, then Plymouth has quite a few of those. Some I like and some I think are absolutely awful.
The buildings I approve of include the Royal Bank of Scotland Building on Royal Parade (which has recently been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage).I think this building is quite elegant. The Guildhall, and Plymouth City Museum and Central Library also have a classical kind of charm to them which appeals to me. The Roland Levinsky Building on the other hand is a completely different type of architectural style, being very modern, but I absolutely love this building and think ‘wow’ every time I catch sight of it. I always look with affection on Charles Church; a beautiful if sadly neglected building, somehow even more beautiful now that it’s a shell, and a poignant reminder of the Second World War.
Truly Hideous Buildings
However there are also quite a few buildings in Plymouth which fall into the ‘truly hideous’ category. I know I’m not alone in disliking the Staples building, a huge, featureless, characterless block.
Drake Circus is another building which is hated by many. The exterior of Drake Circus encapsulates bizarreness. It has so many different styles, materials and patterns on the outside that the eye of the beholder is continually confused. Approaching Drake Circus from Exeter Street is a particularly odd sensation, as behind the magnificent lines of Charles Church, you can see an array of bright orange sails set at a peculiar slant that makes you feel queasy as you drive around the roundabout. Who knows what the architects were thinking of when they came up with that design?
The Civic Centre towers over the City Centre, but not in a good sense. I’m not an admirer of that type of architecture anyway and no one can say that the Civic Centre has stood the test of time, as it is clearly decaying before our eyes. English Heritage listed this monstrosity not long ago and thus jeopardised plans to improve this part of Plymouth.
Bretonside Bus Station is another building characterised by its hideousness. The architecure was never good in my view, but is made worse by the fact that the gloomy, subterranean, nature of the design seems to attract graffitti and tramps in equal measure.
I could go on for much longer but these are just a few examples of the ‘landmark’ buildings in Plymouth. Some have been built recently and some have been around for years. What they have in common, historic and recent, good and bad, is the astonishing range of architectural styles they encompass.
You couldn’t get more diverse styles than that of the Roland Levinsky Building, Drake Circus and the Staples Building. Yet all of these buildings are comparatively recent. Plymouth seems to me to be a mish mash of widely varying architectural styles. Some are exciting and beautiful like the Roland Levinsky Building, some are exciting and horrid like Drake Circus.
No Overall Plan for Plymouth
There seems to be no overall plan as to how Plymouth should look, no integration or symmetry of styles. Whilst this may make Plymouth look interesting, it is also in danger of making Plymouth look ugly and unfocussed. The proposed new railway complex looks fabulous and I hope that more structures like this will be approved in Plymouth and less like the Staples building.
Plymouth could be a great place for us locals and for visitors alike, but to be truly great we need great buildings.