A local icon and a brutalist masterpiece? The story of Gateshead’s Trinity Square Car Park

It once towered over the town of Gateshead, insomuch that it become a local icon and a marvel to behold. Trinity Square Carpark was an iconic structure which attracted both marvel and disdain.

The 1960s was a time of upheaval and change in Britain. We lived in a country still recovering from World War II. With limited resources, authorities were faced with the mammoth task of rebuilding and redeveloping a country that had been sporadically bombed, as well as increasing living standards as attitudes towards poverty and welfare changed.

This massive demand for construction gave rise to a minimalist style known as Brutalism, favoured for its cost effectiveness, efficiency and simplicity. These buildings were utilitarian and practical, showcasing bare concrete with little design or decoration. In this era arose a prominent architect known as Owen Luder (1928-2001) who was President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Luder’s legacy was to design controversial brutalist structures all over Britain.

One of his chief projects was the construction of the Trinity Square Shopping Centre and Car Park in Gateshead, with town centres throughout the UK being comprehensively rebuilt in this period. As a note of comparison, note how Sunderland Town was also rebuilt from the ruins of war in the 1960s, and the fashion was to create these vast brutalist shopping arcades with cold, dark concrete.

In the attempt to create an architectural marvel, as well as to make Gateshead accessible amidst a surge in cars, Luder designed an enormous seven storey carpark. Space was creaed for a café to be installed on the top with views of all Tyneside, this never materialised due to fire safety reasons. The Car Park soon gained cultural status after featuring in the 1971 gangster film Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. Here, Caine’s character, Jack Carter, pushes another man to his death.

In the long run, the strategic goals behind the car park’s construction, to get more people shopping in Gateshead, failed. From the 1980s onwards, three factors ultimately served to hollow out Gateshead Town Centre. First was the construction of the MetroCentre, the largest shopping centre in the North East and at the time, Britain. Next, the resurgence of neighbouring Newcastle Upon Tyne and Eldon Square made it more appealing to shop on the other side of the river, than in Gateshead itself. Thirdly, the construction of Gateshead Interchange and the Metro System only made it easier to get in and out of the town, making the car park redundant.

Thus in 2007, Gateshead council made the decision to demolish the Trinity Car Park and sell the land. Tesco acquired the site. Having failed to create a gigantic store in the centre of Sunderland on the Vaux Site, they opted successfully to do so in Gateshead. In 2010, the car park was finally demolished. However, as a local icon of Gateshead, some people were actually sad to see it go. It held a sentimental status, as useless as it was. In its place ,a Tesco supermarket, a new shopping centre and a cinema soon emerged.