‘Orange slug’ or a design triumph?

Kingsway flat development at the Old Bus Station, Lancaster.
Kingsway flat development at the Old Bus Station, Lancaster.

The botched heritage capital.

Not the kind of accolade an historic city would wish to flaunt.

But Lancaster has been hung out to dry by a well known architectural critic due to the way two of its buildings, in particular, have been redeveloped in recent years.

In his architecture and design blog for The Guardian newspaper, Oliver Wainwright criticises the way in which developers incorporate new buildings into old frontages, known as “facadism”.

He picks on the former bus depot in Kingsway, which he describes as a “great orange slug”, and the City Block development in Penny Street, as “two fine facadist contenders”, among others identified across the country.

The debate over these buildings is well-known in the city, with strong opinions on both sides.

Wainwright writes: “Lancaster also seems to be making a bid as the capital of botched heritage.

“Less a preserved facade than a completely trampled building, the grade II-listed Kingsway bus depot has had a hundred flats foisted upon it in the form of a great orange slug, held over the original stone temple on chunky zigzag columns.

“Down the road, meanwhile, another student housing scheme has taken lessons from London’s examples and brutally wedged a new accommodation block behind an existing street front.

“A relentless grid of windows has been punched through the old stone wall, as if the facade has been impaled on some kind of architectural iron maiden.”

While Martin Widden, joint chair of Lancaster Civic Society has no problem describing the Kingsway flats as an “ugly brutal thing with an awful colour and sloping struts out of all proportion”, he is more sympathetic towards the Cityblock student accommodation, adding: “Many of us have reservations about the facade, but the rest of it is very good.

“It’s very well done behind the facade into Thurnham Street, but I do admit the facade is a bit odd.”

The criticism comes as Lancaster gets set to hold its bi-annual Design Awards, co-organised by Lancaster Civic Society, Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce, Lancaster University and supported by the Lancaster Guardian.