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:
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.
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.
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).
- 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.