Time to cast off Croydon’s Concrete Jungle image

Prominent Purley-based architect TARSEM FLORA has seen many visions for the borough left to gather dust. But he believes that Croydon can shed its reputation for brutalist architecture

I am convinced that the public perception of Croydon as a concrete jungle will no longer hold good as the schemes that are either under construction or proposed and approved by the council will in the very near future change this perception and bring back the civic pride the town deserves.

Croydon Council has been known to initiate many design-orientated projects such as “2020 Vision”, only for the plans to be shelved, to collect dust permanently.

This, I am pleased to note, is beginning to change and the planning authority is now much more active in taking some very bold decisions, something that was unthinkable a decade ago. Projects like Saffron Square, the council’s own new offices (Bernard Weatherill House), Ruskin Square, and Menta’s mixed use high-rise scheme at Cherry Orchard Road will most definitely change the skyline of Croydon for the better.

I often hear people complaining that modern buildings all look alike – covered in glass etc. They forget that the so-called classical buildings which they like so much also all looked alike, with their columns and porticoes. Only the best of that period has survived.

It is about time that people accept modern architecture, which is created to take full advantage of the latest technology and availability of new materials. Glass, for example, can now be used as a structural material. It is futile, in my view, to keep harking about the past. We need to move forward and keep up with the new discoveries, including those of our own earth and the universe at large. We need vision and foresight, both admirably demonstrated in the projects we saw at the recent “New Croydon” exhibition.

Global warming and climate change requires architects, engineers, planners and indeed politicians to keep ahead of this changing scenario. We cannot afford to stay complacent. We need to produce building environments which are resilient to new global pressures and changes.

As far as I can see, there is no lack of vision in Croydon. The only problem is the lack of decision-making, which has marred several projects in Croydon, some dragging on for more that 10 years, such as the East Croydon station site and St George’s Walk.The upgrade of Wellesley Road appears likely to suffer from this malaise, too.

The government has repeatedly tried to simplify planning processes but every time the process seems just to get more complex and complicated, with so much red tape and irrelevant regulations. The Localism Bill and the Big Society seemed good but remain impractical.

It is good to see two separate proposals for the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, one from Westfield and the other from Hammerson. However, it was somewhat disappointing in that neither scheme as presented at the New Croydon exhibit was put forward in sufficient detail to make any valuable assessment.

Purley’s Tarsem Flora, a Freeman of the City of London and Member of Royal Institute of British Architects, has worked around the world over the past half-century

Westfield, preferred by the Whitgift Foundation, seemed a little more advanced than the other. But the design team selected by Hammerson includes very highly reputed international firms of architects, Terry Farrell and RTKL. It was a great pity, therefore, that the exhibition panel was so low-key and failed to show the vision, if there was one, in full.

All in all, the New Croydon exhibition was good for Croydon. The future of this town is clearly visionary and the present prospects of getting these projects off the ground appear good.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to Time to cast off Croydon’s Concrete Jungle image

  1. croydonite says:

    I’m afraid I don’t quite agree with Mr Flora. Many of the current proposals for redeveloping Croydon seem to centre on building more flats and shops. I’m sure more people will visit newly developed Whitgift and Centrale malls, but at the expenses of local independent shops that give Croydon the little authenticity and integrity it so badly needs.

    As for building more flats (I understand there is planning permission for around 7,500 in the town centre), do we really think there are enough people to buy them? And if we do entice young well-heeled folk from the city, what will they do when they get here?

    I doubt they’ll find anything of interest at Fairfield Halls and how much Hollywood rubbish can you watch? Besides that what we are crying out for is affordable family homes with outdoor space for children. But that doesn’t give a very good profit margin for developers does it?

    We need to invest much more broadly in people and culture. Reinstating the David Lean Cinema would be a good start and turning The Pump Station into a arts centre would be another, and not that expensive when you consider how much money the council pumps into Fairfield every month.

    Rooftop gardens, produce grown locally and other green initiatives are booming in cities like Paris and Rotterdam and all enhance the culture of the place – and they can live along side new development.

    I am not against regeneration, but giving out planning permission to often financial weak developers to build high-rise flats is not development – regeneration comes from investing in people as well and thinking really hard about what makes a town a great place to live.

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