Trinity Car Park, Gateshead

Trinity Car park, Gateshead

North-East England, in the past few years, has been busily redeveloping itself. Towns have been smartened up, decaying buildings redeveloped, and irredeemable monstrosities torn down. The process started twenty years ago, and it's still ongoing today. In the next few months, a large block of Gateshead town centre, for example, is to be torn down and redeveloped. In the process, the building that is arguably the town's most famous and most prominent landmark will be demolished.

Trinity Square car park stands firmly above Gateshead, by some way the tallest building in the town centre. It's been Gateshead's biggest landmark for over forty years, having been opened in 1967 after five years on the drawing board. Built over a market hall and surrounded by a shopping precinct at its base, it was intended to be a centrepiece of its community. The top floor featured a space for a cafe-bar, with large, gorgeous, square picture windows looking out over Gateshead and Newcastle. It was never used, and has been empty for almost the whole of the building's life. Rather than becoming the centre of its community, the building is instead famous for the role it plays in a film, the 1971 gangster movie "Get Carter". A corrupt (and fictional) property developer shows Michael Caine around the empty cafe, and is later thrown off the building to his death. His grim demise fits well with the film, and with the dark bulk of the car park itself.

By the time the car park was constructed, its Brutalist design was already out of date and unfashionable. Its outdoor shopping precinct quickly became outdated too; shoppers preferred indoor precincts such as Newcastle's Eldon Square or, later, the Metro Centre in suburban Gateshead. Nevertheless, the building is still distinctive, striking, and important. Although the car park is closed off, the precinct surrounding it is still just about accessible. Almost all the tenants have left, now, given the impending closure, their shops hidden behind pastel security shutters. Boots The Chemist was so far as I could see, about the only remaining tenant, when I visited in January 2008. The precinct was still busy with locals, though, using it as a shortcut, hurrying through draughty passageways amid a forest of concrete columns supporting higher-level roads and walkways. The lowest two or three storeys have been slathered in thick cream masonry paint, presumably to help prevent graffiti; but above, the car park is still its original bare grey concrete, alternately dark and light, constantly changing shade with light and weather.

Trinity Car park, Gateshead

Trinity Square was designed by Britain's best-known Brutalist architect, Owen Luder. He will be 80 this year, and will have outlived some of his most famous buildings. Despite its distinctive design, the building is unlisted. The site is owned by Tesco, who want the whole block demolished so they can replace their current Gateshead store, just over the road. They have planning permission, and are currently planning to go ahead with demolition over the next few months. If you want to visit Trinity Square you may have, literally, a few days left before the precinct is closed. Soon, there really will be nothing to see here.

Main photo by Mick Donnelly. Used with thanks.

How to get there

Trinity Square is in Gateshead Town Centre between West St, Ellison St and High St. It is opposite Gateshead bus and Metro station, and is a 10-minute walk from Newcastle city centre.

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Do you know if it'll still be there in March? Might make a pilgrimage up North especially...

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