swindonweb®  home    make this my homepage
myswindonweb   LOGIN / REGISTER  
Date added: 18 March 2013

Build It And They Will Come 

Jon Ratcliffe takes a look back at the opening of the Brunel Centre, 40 years ago this month
 
Good decision-making can include analysis, assessment, debate and opinion, but there’s something you can’t put in a business report or easily quantify: confidence.
 
When the gold cloth was pulled away at the unveiling of the Brunel Statue in Havelock Square 40 years ago on 29 March 1973 to celebrate the opening of the first phase of the Brunel Shopping Centre, the entire ceremony was a metaphor for confidence.
 
The nerves of councillors, planners, architects and engineers must have been calmer on that Spring day than in the years following the 1959-60 proposals for ‘development west of Regent Street’.
 
Massive scale models were produced, plans drawn up and dreams entertained for what the new centre of Swindon should be and exactly how big to build.
 
The first phase of the Brunel Centre was certainly a plan with bold intentions and an unswerving confidence.
 
Brunel Centre Swindon 1973
Then & Now:
The Brunel Centre & Statue in 1973 & today
 
Brunel Centre Swindon 2013
 
The demolition of Cromwell Street, Brunel Street and the bottom-end of Havelock Street was on the cards, with everything around to be replaced with a new shopping centre.
 
Echoing the Swindon-actions of the GWR and later British Rail Western Region, the centre design was heavily engineering-led.
 
Brunel Centre Swindon Model
The Grand Plan:
With Cromwell Street, below, demolished
and now under the Brunel Centre
 
Cromwell Street Swindon
 
The Brunel Centre was one of the first to have shops-facing outwards into the neighbouring streets, rather than a purely interior shopping street. This was not a development that had its back turned on its neighbours.
 
A revolutionary idea was to get rid of the delivery lorries by putting a delivery deck on the roof with arrival and departure spirals on Farnsby Street and Davis Place. This left the shopping areas of Wharf Green, Canal Walk, Regent Street and Havelock Street safe and free for full pedestrian use.
 
DMJ Tower Construction Swindon
Final Stage:
the Brunel Tower (David Murray John Building)
wasn't completed until 1976
 
With nods to the past and Swindon’s heritage, the line of Brunel Street was retained and became the covered shopping plaza with black and white ‘piano key’ paving. Along with the Brunel Statue, the architectural flourish would be the overall plaza roof that wasn’t yet built in 1973.  
 
Architect Douglas Stephen is an admirer of Brunel’s designs, and you can feel the echo of Paddington Station’s roof by taking a look up next time you’re on the first floor of the plaza.
 
Stephen related his design more to modern industrial architecture, with the use of a practically unbreakable polycarbonate glazing for the exterior canopy, pushing the expectations of design.
 
Brunel Centre Swindon 1970s
70s shopping in Swindon:
The Brunel was originally just one floor, with its well remembered black & white 'piano key' tiling. The space was inspired by Brunel's grand design of Paddington Station. Notice the plans on display for Westlea Down, the new development in West Swindon
 
The story of the Brunel Centre had only just begun in 1973, more phases were to come, along with the crowning achievement, the David Murray John building (or the Brunel Tower).
 
Modern Swindon had started to lay its foundations too, West Swindon was being built, the Oasis was soon to emerge from the barren North Star mud and the M4 was only 15 months old.
 
The groundwork for what was to become the 'Fastest Growing Town in Europe' had been completed.
 
Pictures copyright The Swindon Collection and used with their kind permission.
RELATED CONTENT
Swindon Going Downhill?
Swindon Going Downhill? Too right!!
Great news as £270m ski dome at North Star gets the final go ahead - HAVE YOUR SAY
More28 November 2018
Ambitious Plans For Town Centre
Ambitious Plans For Town Centre Vision for a landmark museum and art gallery for Swindon revealed...
More13 December 2016
Adver Towers Shelved!
Adver Towers Shelved! UPDATE: Apology & plans withdrawn after public outcry over Old Town development proposal - HAVE YOUR SAY
More12 March 2016
Swindon Pop-Up Museum!
Swindon Pop-Up Museum! Exhibition shows the past, present & future of Swindon town centre - PICS
More01 November 2014
Regenerating Swindon
Regenerating Swindon Take a walk-through the changes happening in Swindon town centre - WATCH VIDEO
More07 June 2014
The Biggest Piece of the Jigsaw
The Biggest Piece of the Jigsaw Major change on the way for Fleming Way as part of the £350 million pound regeneration of Swindon town centre - WATCH VIDEO
More06 March 2014
The Corn Exchange - Past & Future
The Corn Exchange - Past & Future A spectacular aerial look at the history & new plans for one of Swindon's most historic buildings - WATCH VIDEOS
More22 November 2013
The Big Clean Up - Part II!
The Big Clean Up - Part II! Volunteers turn out again to spuce up Old Town - and we salute you! GALLERY
More29 September 2013
The Grand Plan For Old Town
The Grand Plan For Old Town And maybe, just maybe, this time it's going to happen...
More30 July 2013
UTC Building
UTC Building We explore how the iconic college will look...
More15 July 2013
Bright Prospects For Swindon
Bright Prospects For Swindon Aspiring youngsters get a first glance at the engineering future of Swindon - WATCH VIDEO & SEE PICTURES
More
Ahh, if only....
Ahh, if only.... Jon Ratcliffe imagines what Swindon could be like if we got back our confidence - HAVE YOUR SAY...
More10 April 2013
Get Down Swindon!
Get Down Swindon! Gilbert O'Sullivan - number one in the charts 40 years ago this week - WATCH VIDEO
More06 April 2013
An Oasis For The 21st Century
An Oasis For The 21st Century Grand plan for Swindon leisure centre unveiled...
More14 March 2013
£10m Swindon UTC On Its Way
£10m Swindon UTC On Its Way Surveyors get started on University Technical College conversion of old GWR school...
More04 February 2013
Swindon's New Masterplan
Swindon's New Masterplan Forward Swindon announce new regeneration plans for Swindon town centre - SWTV
More05 September 2012
New Swindon Station Forecourt
New Swindon Station Forecourt Worth the wait or waste of money? - SWTV VOX POP + FACEBOOK DEBATE
More31 August 2012
Hanging Around In Swindon!
Hanging Around In Swindon! It's every crane operator's nightmare - getting stuck 200 feet up on the job! - SEE GALLERY
More30 August 2012
Even The Queen Was Invited
Even The Queen Was Invited A look back at Swindon's last big regeneration project - and what happened when the money ran out...
More07 August 2012
The History of Swindon
The History of Swindon A journey back through Swindon's proud history...
More
A look into the future plans for the Swindon College site
A look into the future plans for the Swindon College site A look into the future plans for the Swindon College site...
MoreTV17 April 2007
RELATED LINKS
Swindon Collection - FlickR
myswindonweb
Jolly Roger
Chelworth Windows and Conservatories, Swindon, Wiltshire
The Hair Group, Old Town, Swindon