Most town centres nowadays have taken a hit and have had to adapt and survive. A decline in footfall and rise in online shopping has left many of them empty and full of vacant shops. Hairdressers, beauty parlours, charity shops and cafes seem to be the sole survivors. As of yet, Amazon hasn’t found a way to replicate these services and shops online.

Cumbernauld Town Centre – designed in the 1960s as the ‘very heart of its new town’ is no exception to this new reality. It has taken more of a hit because ultimately this lack of retail and footfall has meant that it’s not only ‘lost its soul’ – but it’s lost the main reason for its very existence. And for Britain’s first all-purpose indoor shopping mall, that means demolition.

The decision to demolish the Town Centre has been a controversial one. A lengthy public consultation exercise by Historic Environment Scotland (H.E.S) to have the building listed failed as three-quarters of those who responded wanted it demolished. North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) moved quickly soon after to purchase the building and will soon begin a long-term relocation and demolition project with a proposal to provide a new multi-purpose town hub and other community and commercial development to replace it.

In reality, the demolition of the Town Centre has been on the cards way before the demise of the high street. In 2005, Cumbernauld’s Centre was voted number one in a Channel 4 poll, involving 10,000 people, to find the building most people would like to see demolished. The dubious accolade came weeks after the town won the Carbuncle Award for Scotland’s most dismal town in an architecture magazine.

 

Today when you wander through the Town Centre you sense the building has just fought and lost its last battle. Much of the original megastructure has been hidden under cladding for decades and several newer commercial units bolted onto it in an attempt to modernise it. Its original battleship grey is long gone and hidden under a 1980s colour palette. When it rains, the empty expansive corridors become more of an assault course of puddles with semi-permanent buckets in place in try in vain to do the simplest of jobs.. All that exists of that original brave new world brutalist structure of the late 1960s can only be seen in archive black and white photographs. In 2023 its long, empty corridors, and worn exteriors and interior look dated and from another botched universe altogether.

Most residents of Cumbernauld agree with NLC and say the heart of the town has had its time, it’s now completely unfunctional and the Town Centre needs not just a repair, but a completely new heart transplant.

A few lone voices of academics and architects will continue their ‘fight’ to save the building. Professor Miles Glendinning, of Edinburgh University and Director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies claims that decades of neglect have led to the current adapted consensus that it’s all but game over and demolition is the only answer.

Barnabas Calder, who has written books both on brutalism and the climate implications of architecture, questions the tens of thousands of tons of embodied carbon in the Town Centre’s construction and pending demolition and the fact that North Lanarkshire Council’s declaration of a climate emergency doesn’t seem to resonate when it comes to Cumbernauld.

The bulldozers won’t arrive on site for at least another five years and the arguments for and against the demolition will continue and get louder as time passes. What is certain, though, failing a complete turnaround from NLC, these will be the last days, weeks, months, and years of The Cumbernauld Town Centre megastructure.

These next few years will be a critical time for a reckoning and understanding of Cumbernauld’s past, present and future as a whole, not just its Town Centre.

 

 

Article from the Neglected Issue of the Modernist Magazine Dec 2023