Why Cumbernauld needs an impressive, not imposing town centre - Emma Newlands comment

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression – and I cannot say Cumbernauld’s 1960s town centre building, where I worked for several years on the local paper, and which is now earmarked for demolition, dazzled me on our first meeting.

On my first trip there, by bus, I didn’t realise that what looked like a dreich, abandoned industrial warehouse with not a shop or cafe in sight was where I was meant to disembark, so I ended up going halfway back to Glasgow.

I finally made it to the paper’s now-closed offices located over the dual carriageway, and, as I would discover, they would shake slightly, and unnervingly, when a large lorry passed underneath.

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Cumbernauld town centre's Brutalist architecture was an idealistic experiment bu...

It was all in sharp contrast to illustrations of what the town centre had been designed to look like – a Utopia highlighted in the BBC’s pioneering satellite broadcast in 1967, with presenter Magnus Magnusson speaking of the “prize-winning” and “visionary” New Town, whose flagship Brutalist building let inhabitants shop free of “the monster” of the car, and which would house penthouse apartments above bowling alleys and cinemas.

Fast-forwarding a few decades, Cumbernauld would rack up many more prizes – but for the wrong reasons, such as the Carbuncle Award, and it was not hard to see why. The building had a confusing and disjointed layout, while abrasive, unpainted concrete pillars and cracks that let in rainwater had both become commonplace features.

The increasing number of empty retail units would only accelerate when The Antonine Shopping Centre opened in 2007, and whenever I went past the distinctive, gravity-defying, “on stilts” section of the 1960s building near entrances to both, I felt like it would collapse on top of me.

But the negative headlines overshadowed a town with much to be proud of; its setting for Gregory’s Girl, its Roman history, its What’s it called, Cumbernauld? catchphrase, the Irn-Bru factory, and, as I saw first-hand, a large amount of selfless community work.

I found this part of the building particularly unnerving. Picture: contributed.I found this part of the building particularly unnerving. Picture: contributed.
I found this part of the building particularly unnerving. Picture: contributed.

We would also get a visit from the occasional group of architecture students, who would look at the building through fresh and enthusiastic eyes. But to me the structure isn’t a rough diamond that could be polished to resemble the original vision, it’s a run-down structure that does not do its people justice.

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