The Tricorn
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The Tricorn The Life and Death of a Sixties Icon - By Celia Clark & Robert Cook

Price £19.99 - Postage £4.90

Love it or hate it – there’s no middle ground in reactions to the Tricorn: the Brutalist, bold, multi-layered and multi-use megastructure built in Portsmouth between 1962 and 1966, and demolished in  2004.  The Tricorn features in histories of architecture.  Its  chunky imagery spawned progeny -  the Lloyds building’s exterior  staircases, the Barbican’s curving upstands  - leading ultimately to  the birth of high-tech.

The Tricorn has been celebrated  - and reviled - in festivals, ballet, music, performance art, videos,  websites, films, virtual fly-throughs, poetry, books, television and radio.   How many other buildings have inspired such an efflorescence?  Despite  its demolition, it still  lives vividly in people’s memories and  dreams. 

Celia Clark and Robert Cook  explore what  makes an architectural icon – and what unmade it.   This book sets  the Tricorn within its architectural context: Brutalism and the 1960s.  The unpopularity of Brutalism and the fact it was a commercial property affected the Tricorn’s fate.  The book draws on two sources not usually combined:  a  collage of documentary material, and the rich seam of people’s descriptions  of life in the building. The Tricorn’s architects: Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon explain the building’s genesis and reflect on its demise.    The 1812 Overture was played at its demolition - a reflection of  the Tricorn’s heroic status in people’s imagination.


Foreword By Tom Dychkoff

When a building dies, what does it leave?  In the Tricorn’s case a great big blinking hole in the middle of Portsmouth, that’s what.  I always thought it somewhat improbable that anyone would — or rather could — actually demolish so great and hulking a beast of a building.  What with?  Exocet missiles?  Do you remember how much concrete was actually piled up high on those few acres?  The Tricorn had been such a literally vast part of Portsmouth’s landscape and collective memory, for good or bad, depending on your attitude towards brutalist architecture, it seemed impossible that one day it wouldn’t actually be there.

But gone it is.  To be replaced by asphalt and air.  Looking back with hindsight in ten or a hundred years or so, we might wonder whether the Tricorn was just another victim among millions of the collective, consumerist mania that took over our country — the whole world, indeed — in the “Noughties”, before the inevitable hubris of the recession that followed.  What were we thinking?  Easy credit, cranes in every town, redevelopment, buy, buy, buy became the mantra during the early years of the new millennium, as much as sky-high property prices and 100% mortgages.  Developers were king again, just as they had been at the birth of the Tricorn.  What was the Tricorn, after all, but a product of the last great consumerist boom in the ’60s, when towns and cities were redeveloped without batting an eyelid, when we had money in our pockets and optimism towards the future?  Live by the sword and die by the sword, I guess. In the Noughties, too, private finance — whether that of a City trader or a developer engaged in “retail-led regeneration” — was used for so-called public gain.  That was the iron law beneath New Labour.  Let the private sector take the strain.  The miraculous transformation of our city centres into shiny new temples of consumerism began.

Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, even Corby: few towns escaped architectural rebranding during the boom years. Councils and developers imagined a glorious future in which citizens would endlessly shop and sup lattes, without wondering where they were getting the money from to fund their habit.  The credit bubble.  Come on, we all fell for it.  So by the time of its demise, the grey elephant hide concrete of the Tricorn may have been feted by we rising few aficionados of Brutalism — labelled romantics, nostalgists by their detractors — but there was no room for it in the Great Shiny Future.  The Tricorn was just an ugly great hulk in the way of Portsmouth’s transformation into another Cappuccinotown.  Concrete would make way for developer’s wafer-thin polished marble, gleaming atria, and shoppers eagerly waving their plastic.  Until, that is, the bubble burst.

When a building dies, what does it leave?  Memories.  That’s all.  We kid ourselves, like Ozymandius, that buildings embody immortality.  But one day the Tricorn’s footprint will disappear from sight, buried beneath asphalt and whatever eventually gets built on its ghost, to be left only for future archaeologists to dig up and ponder on the architectural culture of provincial Britain, circa 1960-2009.  One day you and I will be gone, and all that will be left of our memories are those that are recorded somewhere.  Traces. Physical, digital.  Photographs, anecdotes, and, in my case, memories of happy days in 2004 clambering with a camera crew over the Tricorn’s derelict, evocative, desperately saddening monumental terraces to make a film on the building, now forever languishing somewhere in the digital vaults at Channel 4.

So treasure this book and the history contained within it.  Enjoy it.  Reminisce with it.  Keep it safe.  That way, our memories, and our architecture, will outlast us all.

Tom Dyckhoff

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 10:50