Tag: developer fantasies

Car park design Musings

Islington & Carfax Street car parks

It seems that unadorned multi-storey car parks have gone out of fashion. Not that they were ever something that could be described as ‘fashionable’. But at least the simple construction of a series of floors, plainly open to the elements, was unpretentious and offer scope for some styling. Looking down Islington Street three such car parks from the 1960s and 1970s are visible. They’re not pretty, but they are functional, with Islington Street Car Park and the Menzies Hotel quite well matched in their brickwork.

Now for the first stage of Muse’s Union Square development something far less simple has been proposed to replace — on a different site — Carfax Street Car Park: a car park encased in aluminium and terracotta ‘fins’. According to the architects, this freak of architecture has

a language for the building where the whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts…. The façade design balances the practical requirement of allowing natural ventilation through the building and creating a striking visual appeal to the building.

Only in the mind of an architect could an overgrown fence be thought of as having ‘a striking visual appeal’.

Union Square car park

In comparison with that, the block of 45 flats to be built nearby are almost stylish. And in the artist’s impression of the flats they felt obliged to hide the car park behind some trees!

Union Square flats

Hedges on sticks

Welcome though the changes to Swindon Railway Station forecourt may be, the artist’s impressions in the Station Update leaflet — that’s been distributed near the station — show a rather odd fashion in topiary. So the ghostly passengers and ghostly taxis are surrounded not by ordinary trees — that privilege is reserved for customers of the coffee shop — but by what look like carefully fashioned hedges… on tall sticks. Maybe it’s intended to make it easier for pedestrians, so they can walk underneath what would otherwise be low trees.

Hopefully in real life it will look far less bizarre than the artist has made it appear. Hopefully too, they won’t prove costly to maintain in this form either.

Hedges above!
Little green boxes

The wrong impression

Ski-Trac snow domeIt’s good that we now have some more details and the rather speculative proposal for an indoor ski slope on the site of the Oasis. It’s less good that the reporting of those details is at best regurgitating the sales talk of the promoters and at worst just wrong.

THIS is the image that could represent Swindon to the rest of the country, and the world.

Actually, the image I have reproduced here is what the facility might look like — if you’re gullible enough to believe artist’s impressions that is. The image illustrating the Adver’s story is of the building with its lid off.

The multi-million pound snow dome would play host to the longest ski-run in the world.

Aah, spot the journalist who’s swallowed the promoter’s hype at face value. The actual length of the ski slope is just 980 ft: hardly world-record breaking. As explained on the promoter’s website, the design incorporates a moving circular slope that continuously rotates. The claimed length of the ‘ski-run’ is the distance that someone could ski in one hour — about 12 miles or 19 miles, depending on which page page of their site you believe — with the run rotating at maximum speed. That’s rather a lot of snow and hardware rotating at just under one revolution per minute.

THE SKI-TRAC DOME houses a huge 175-metre (570 ft) diameter rotating snowfield…. Using new “Mag-lev” technology, the snow deck, with its 200 mm (8 in) snow cover will “float” on an electro-magnetic field without the need for wheels, thus ensuring frictionless, vibrationless, silent, and maintenance-free rotation.

And that’s a maintenance-free flying pig I can see coming in to land. Nothing as big and complex as this bit of machinery is going to be maintenance free.

The whole contraption, including other attractions, climate control and snow production, would consume enough power that it would need its own gas-powered turbines to provide electricity.

Though such a venue might be a great asset for Swindon, in both planning terms and technology this proposal seems to have a very long way to go before getting vaguely close to reality.


Are you impressed by the Brunel Centre’s new canopies? Does the town centre look transformed? I’d be amazed if anyone — apart from Mr Beaumont-Jones, the centre’s director — answered ‘yes’ to either of those questions, but that is was the aforementioned Mr Beaumont-Jones claimed the new canopies would do.
The Brunel – artist’s impression and reality
In appearance the new canopies are a definite improvement; in their ability to protect shoppers from the rain, they are virtually useless. A definite victory for style over purpose.


Mr Beaumont-Jones, director of the Brunel Centre, must live in a state of permanent excitement, amazed by the wonder of every dull, mundane thing he sees. Why else would someone describe the replacement of the Brunel Centre’s old, distinctive but filthy canopies with standard canopies, as seen in hundreds of town centres, in such overblown terms.

I think shoppers are going to be impressed. It’s going to transform the town centre.

It will certainly improve the appearance of the centre, but not to the extent Mr Beaumont-Jones would have us believe. The planning application shows something distinctly conventional. Even the artist’s impression — not known for understating the beauty of proposed buildings — shows, by day, an unremarkable building. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one chosen to illustrate the Adver’s report was the more impressive night-time view.
Nothing flashy here
There’s been a lot of talk, from the council, the development quango and the developers, of transforming Swindon town centre. If this is an example then, when the credit-crunch-delayed transformation finally happens, the people of Swindon are going to be very disappointed.

The old school approach to new schools: an essay in little boxes part 16

I’ve commented before about the antiquated appearance of the houses being built on Swindon’s front garden and its potential for creating a run-down appearance. Now it seems that the public buildings within Wichelstowe will be taking that concept to new depths.

A primary school with ‘community facilities’ and nursery proposed for ‘Parcel 36’ of East Wichel has a very Victorian looking front. Behind that is tagged on something looking like a cheap 1970s extension. The overall effect of the design for Swindon Borough Council is a ramshackle building that appears to have been starved of funds before it’s even been built.

Actually, given that this expansion of Swindon has been imposed by central government with little, if any, financial support, that last thought might not be far from the truth.
Is it a chapel or is it a school?Tasteful ’70s-style ‘temporary’ school extensions


If the architects are to believed, a proposal for a monolithic terrace of flats, clad in white acrylic and zinc will

pay homage to the L-shaped terraced and rectangular semis that are their neighbours.

With such imagination do the developers try to push unsuitable proposals through. Who has ever seen a zinc-clad Victorian terrace or 1930’s semi?
Homage to Victorian terraces?

Wishful thinking

2030 visionThe Swindon Strategic Partnership (which often seems so close as to be indistinguishable from Swindon Borough Council) has published the final version of its Community Strategy or 2030 vision. It reads slightly less like a socialist eutopia than the draft version did, but still remains fanciful. Perhaps it’s meant to be that way.

Rural areas will benefit as much as the urban areas with work undertaken to address issues like public transport, local jobs and affordable homes.

Presumably because they’ll have been subsumed into the urban sprawl that government development plans are imposing on the town.

The rural areas of the Borough will be made up of diverse, vibrant and economically sound communities.

Told you so: most people would think of rural areas as being made up of fields, woods and villages; for Swindon, it’s housing and communities all the way.

Swindon’s appeal will stem from having an attractive and well-equipped town that has successfully blended traditional architecture with high quality contemporary buildings that incorporate sustainable design and construction principles.

That is, every historic building will have been converted to flats, with only the original facade remaining.

The town centre will be a far more attractive place for everyone to visit in the evenings thanks to significant reductions in the amount of crime and anti-social behaviour.

So, the lollipops will work.

Not surprisingly, given his past record, Mr Bluh is ecstatic.

This important document is the ultimate vision of how local people want their borough to be. Thank you to everyone who gave their views which have helped shape this exciting, ambitious set of aspirations.

As the vision itself states,

This document has been produced with help from nearly a thousand local people.

That’s less than one percent of the population of the borough. Whilst clearly well intentioned, I suspect the vision owes more to the officials that drafted it than to the population of Swindon as a whole.

Building in the past: an essay in little boxes part 9

The plans for some of the affordable housing blocks of East Wichel recently submitted look positively Victorian. Whilst some of the earlier Swindon Front Garden planning applications had that semifake-victoriana look that is becoming so familiar in the infilling of every vacant space of Old Town, these look, from the ‘street scenes’ (developers’ fantasies to you) that the developers are obliged to include with their plans, much closer to the real thing. Previous plots show a lack of scale, with steep rooves and three or four storey houses, to pack as many houses into as small a space as possible. ‘Parcel 18’ is the lucky winner of rows of victorianesque two-storey terraces.
East Wichel Victoriana
komadori suspects it is only the proximity of this plot to the M4 motorway that has prevented the developers being more greedy: taller buildings would not have been effectively protected by the ‘sound barrier’ (big mound of earth to you) that is being constructed between these houses and the motorway.

Glittering nights

New Swindon Company Promenade fantasyAnother announcement from the New Swindon Company… and another beyond-belief artist’s impression, this one for the Promenade development. Street lights have never twinkled so prettily. But for the moment, all we’re getting is a feasibility study, which, given that large parts of the area have already been cleared, seems a little late.

I also see from the announcement that there’s another partnership to add to my list.