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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.
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