Tenth anniversary next month for start of Tricorn demolition
12th February 2014
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Time has flown by and it is hard to believe that next month sees the tenth anniversary of the start of the demolition of Portsmouth Tricorn centre !

Many of the older generation will have many memories of the Tricorn, both good and bad, some people loved it and were sad to see it go but others couldn't wait to see the back of it !

When it was built, the Tricorn was heralded as an exciting modern building. Ian Nairn, writing in the Guardian in 1967, compared it to the work of the Beatles. It was the beginning of something new. The Tricorn was very much in keeping with the latter half of the 'sixties. The use of brute concrete as the final finish was very similar to the Whitefriars Glass "Bark" design. The glass was cast in a mould made from real bark, leaving its rough finish on the final product. The design was used for vases, decanters and drinking glasses, which were made in top quality lead crystal - what a contrast to the old designs normally associated with crystal glassware.

In 1967 the Tricorn won a Civic Trust award for its "exciting visual composition". However, in 1968 it was voted Britain's fourth ugliest building ! The Tricorn was controversial right from the start. Hated by the local press, it was never given the chance it deserved. It had only partial success as a shopping centre, even in its heyday. Some thought that the position was wrong. The wrong end of a minor shopping street - yet it was one of the first buildings seen on a drive into Portsmouth. The real reason may have been the imaginative design. It failed to attract the conservative Marks and Spencer. Not all of the shops were let. But, worst of all it was not maintained. It was allowed to decay into a sorry state which hastened its demise.

The 'Casbah' design with its many entrances and exits meant that the Tricorn became a haunt for muggers and was also an easy target for vandals. The result was that the Tricorn became unsafe for families and took on a sinister atmosphere associated with places daubed with graffiti. The streets of the Tricorn were then closed and boarded up. The tragedy was that the thoughtless few, as always, were allowed to spoil it for everybody else. Nowadays we design buildings with fewer exits and open spaces which are always monitored to make life harder for the criminals. In the 'sixties they were building a better future - one where everyone would be accepted as part of a wider society and crime would be much less of a problem. Sadly it was a problem even then. Vandalism of telephone boxes was costing the Post Office millions as early as the mid 'sixties.

Even in its darkest hours the Tricorn did have some successes. Richard Branson opened his first Virgin Store there. The pubs became night clubs and were popular venues for local bands. The Tricorn, as it stood, was not an ideal building for Portsmouth. In spite of its imaginative architecture, the problems with crime and vandalism could not easily be solved without alteration. There were plans to demolish the site and replace it with a new retail and leisure complex. At the eleventh hour, the original architect, Rodney Gordon, came up with plans to redevelop the Tricorn that would have preserved its best features and would also have solved the problems and made it a more usable building. His plans were to retain the main elements of the building - the car park, spiral access ramps, stair towers and flats. He suggested cladding them in a "modern material" such as stainless steel. Personally I think that some of the original character would have been lost if this had of been done - the Tricorn was better in concrete. He also proposed adding more retail spaces and additional car parking with another spiral ramp. The new proposals would have saved around 8 million pounds on the cost of development and saved the expensive cost of demolishing the huge concrete structure.

It was not to be and demolition commenced in the March and was expected to take around ten months. Most of the people I have spoken to about the Tricorn had a certain affection for it. In the 'seventies the Tricorn did thrive and had a lively market on Saturdays. Now, it is a memory for some and an unknown entity to others !!

About the Author

Peter L

Member since: 4th June 2013

An owner of Thebestof Portsmouth, I have lived in Portsmouth and Southsea all my life, so I like to think I have a good idea about what makes us tick. I am passionate about all things Portsmouth and Southsea,...

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