Quite unbelievably to many, the concrete masterpiece that is Preston Bus Station in the UK was heading for the wrecker’s ball. However, the UK government, in the face of prolonged arguments for its listing, finally gave in and in 2013 the building was protected and refurbishment scheduled.
Now, that its renovation has been completed, it stands proud alongside other postwar classics like the Southbank Centre and Sir Denys Lasdun's National Theatre of 1969-76 in London.
Preston bus station and car park was completed in 1969 to the designs of the architecture company Building Design Partnership and engineering firm Ove Arup.
The curved profiles of the parking decks above the ground-level terminal are actually add-ons to what could more easily have been a blunt square edge, but it produces an impressive effect.
The building reflects the ambition of its makers that a bus station could have the status of an airport. At the time of its construction forecasts were predicting that Preston’s population would double, this increase however didn’t materialise.
According to the Observer, the bus station’s renovation is the work of Lancashire county council, which in 2014 relieved its former owner, Preston city council, of the worry of dealing with its brutalist treasure by buying it off them for £1. The council then invested £35.3m to remodel the site, rearranging the traffic around it and building a “youth zone”, and a sports and leisure centre, alongside the main building.
The council chose the architect for the renovation by an open anonymous competition to ensure the quality of design counted for more than track record and reputation of the winner. At first, this approach didn’t have the desired effect. The winning architect, John Puttick, who had only just set up his practice when he won, produced a proposal that was rightly slammed for the way in which the youth zone dominated the front of the bus station. What was the point of keeping the bus station, it was asked, if its grand horizontals were interrupted by the new building?
A change of brief was necessary and Puttick’s work on the new building, carried out with the close attention of the Twentieth Century Society, is tactful and well thought out, recycling iroko timber to make new benches and sills for the interior spaces, tidying up the signage, using the original typography in new ways, and improving the lighting by returning to something like the original scheme. The concrete of the horizontal curved bands was painted white several years ago, which means it was impossible to return to its original raw state, so it has simply been refreshed. As a result, Preston now has a bus terminal that has become a destination in its own right