Discover the history of architecture through the RIBA’s collection of 2,000 periodical titles. This month the British Architectural Library takes a look at a building which – like the Queen – is celebrating 60 years of  service:

Stockwell bus garage, London: the roof arches with skylights, 1952 (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Stockwell bus garage, London: the roof arches with skylights, 1952 (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Transport for London’s suite of depots, sheds and garages may not appear to be worth celebrating in comparison to the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, but it may be worth giving them a thought, as with just days to go before the election for the next Mayor of London, all the mayoral candidates have made transport a major issue of their respective campaigns. As public promises on transport policy are being made and the potential of their delivery analysed by critics and voters, most Londoners will remain unaware of the hidden infrastructure that keeps London moving. This month, one such piece of this vital infrastructure is also celebrating a 60 year landmark. Stockwell bus garage, opened in April 1952, is today a Grade II* listed building. When it became fully operational in 1953, leading periodicals such as the Architects’ Journal printed articles full of impressive statistics about the garage’s size.

Stockwell bus garage, London: Landsdowne Way façade, 1952 (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Stockwell bus garage, London: Landsdowne Way façade, 1952 (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

The form of this building was generated by the need for a large unrestricted space of 73,350 sq ft for parking 200 buses. Designed by Adie Button & Partners, the bus garage was part of a wider scheme to replace trams. Everything these vehicles and their drivers could need to be able to serve Londoners was onsite: facilities for the fuelling, inspection and repair of buses, and for the employees a canteen and staffroom. Most of these services sat beneath the giant barrel vault created by reinforced concrete arches that span 194 ft and spaced at 42 ft intervals. Roof lights measuring 140 ft fill the gap between the ribs of the arches, allowing light into the depths of the 392 ft long main structure.

Stockwell bus garage: Interior, 1952 (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Stockwell bus garage: Interior, 1952 (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Low-rise and still fulfilling the same function since it entered service, it seems extraordinary that this man-made cave for buses is largely hidden from nearby main roads until one turns down the relatively quieter residential streets of Lansdowne Way and Binfield Road. With archive images from the Photographs Collection, and a few from this month, we can see it has changed remarkably little. After 60 years service it has gained some fans, such as writer Will Self: ‘It’s a lovely building – sinuous, curved, organic – and yet it exhibits the best constructivist principles…I could live in it for a year’ (Building, 2007).

Stockwell bus garage, London: Landsdowne Way façade, 2012 (Photograph by Wilson Yau)

Stockwell bus garage, London: Landsdowne Way façade, 2012 (Photograph by Wilson Yau)

Stockwell bus garage: Interior, 2012 (Photograph by Wilson Yau)

Stockwell bus garage: Interior, 2012 (Photograph by Wilson Yau)

Stockwell bus garage: Exterior wall, 2012 (Photograph by Wilson Yau)

Stockwell bus garage: Exterior wall, 2012 (Photograph by Wilson Yau)

 

References:

  • Building, 2007, Dec 14. Wonders & blunders; Architects: Adie Button & Partners and Broadway Malyan. 272(50), p.43.
  • Architects’ Journal, 1953, Dec. 31. Bus garage at Stockwell for London Transport Executive; Architects: Adie Button & Partners. pp.820-822.

More  images of Stockwell bus garage and its construction can been on RIBApix.

About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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2 Comments
  1. IAN CAMERON

    September 28, 2012

    I am elderly now and have lived in the Stockwell area pretty well all my life. I worked in the latter Fifties as a young trainee structural engineering draughtsman with the company A E BEER & Co who were the STOCKWELL BUS GARAGE structural engineers and JOHN SMITH an elderly Scot was the Principle Engineer who undertook this project. I have always held the achievment in the very highest regard. I would love to know if there are any surviving foto’s of the various engineers and architects etc who produced this amazing structure.

    • wilson.yau

      October 4, 2012

      Hi Ian,
      The RIBA only holds archive images of the bus garage dating from the time is was completed. I’m sorry to say that there are no photographs of the engineers from A E Beer & Co or the architects from Adie Button & Partners themselves, in the RIBA’s collections. In the collections there are several original, illustrated articles from various architectural journals from 1953-4 about this fascinating structure, but none of them feature images of the great people who made the building possible. If you want to see these journals they are held in the Reading Room of the Library at the RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London. The Library is open to the public http://www.architecture.com/LibraryDrawingsAndPhotographs/Home.aspx

      Another useful source you may want to contact about this subject is the London Transport Museum. They have an extensive archive http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/collections

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