Only a couple of years ago, one of the reasons given for the necessity of demolishing Preston Bus Station was ‘it’s in the wrong place!’ One of the many things noticeable, however, if you actually visit the Bus Station, is it’s in exactly the right place for most of the things genuinely worth seeing in Preston, genuinely specific and unique to it. An overhead walkway connects it easily to RMJM’s early 1970s Guild Hall, whose James Stirling-style combination of industrial red brick and Constructivist cantilevers contrasts well with the Bus Station’s sublime sweep; and just to the south, is the Victorian covered market, and most importantly of all, the other building in Preston that is truly first rank – the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, an austere, monumental Greek revival building worthy of Schinkel.
The problem always was, though, that the Bus Station’s forecourt made connection between these structures much trickier than their close proximity would imply. Put bluntly, wandering between the Harris and the Bus Station, you’d stand a good chance of getting run over. Not the least interest of this proposal is the fact that a connection is made between these structures.
The Bus Station itself continues, albeit reduced, at the side facing away from the city centre. A square lined with trees runs out from inside the Bus Station’s high, airy concourse, which is turned over to art exhibitions (in an analogue to the Harris’ pre-modern art collection) towards the civic heart of Preston. However, this isn’t treated in the cheaply pompous mock-Victorian manner so often popular in towns like this, but informally, with chairs left around as if in someone’s garden. Connected to this is the pitch of a youth centre, and then, the structure of the youth centre itself, which cuts this square off from the ramps leading to the car park, making a viable civic space out of what had been the Station’s forecourt. That youth centre, meanwhile, subtly repeats the rippling curves of Keith Ingham’s original station design, in a laconic form that doesn’t attempt to compete with the Brutalist grandeur of the original, but doesn’t ignore or patronise it either.
When the Bus Station was slated for demolition and denounced by local politicians, there was always the implication that it was a little too good for Preston, that it had ideas above its station, as it were. In combining the connection to those parts of the city that had higher ambitions, in refurbishing and extending the ideas of the original building, and in creating a genuinely public purpose for the currently underused expanses of Ingham’s generous design, there’s the possibility that the civic pride embodied in these buildings might finally be rescued from decades of neglect.
By Owen Hatherley