The “radical” apartments of the Victoria Center and the mega-structure that could have been


Completed in 1972, the Victoria Center and the apartments above remain Nottingham’s tallest building to this day. Agenda editor Joseph Locker looks back at how development was born and the mega-structure that was ultimately confined to history books …

In the 1960s, British Railways decided to close Victoria Station, opening up the huge site where the Victoria Center and the imposing apartments now stand.

The station as it then was had become unnecessary and therefore was demolished to make way for something new, and the mall was not the only development planned, with a high-speed rail connection also on the table.

It’s a decision that remains a sore point today, and the Grade II listed clock tower in Milton Street is the only remaining relic of the site’s past.

The resulting decision to develop an ‘American style shopping center’, with an apartment tower above, was a ‘bold’ move for Nottingham – especially for social housing – said Dan Lucas, manager Nottingham City Policy and Planning. Houses.

It cost £ 17million, or around £ 266million by current standards.

“It is very interesting that the decision was made to build a large residential complex in the city center of a regional city at a time when most of the trends were in people moving from city centers to housing. more suburban in style, ”he told Nottinghamshire Live. .

“It must have brought a lot of people back to the city center in a way that hadn’t happened throughout the post-war period.

“It was pretty radical back then. What we would now call city living is a mainstream trend, but it certainly wouldn’t have been in the 1970s.

“When I was 20, trying to find an apartment in Nottingham city center was a pretty difficult thing to do. Now you would be spoiled for choice.”

Development gained momentum when British Railways closed Victoria Station, and in 1964 architect Arthur Swift had drawn up a plan.

That same year, Tim Downes, reporter for ATV Midlands News, described the plans as “a town unto itself” in a black-and-white TV interview with Mr Swift, but wondered if it was too much for the small town of Nottingham.

“It’s an amazing site,” Mr. Swift said in the pictures.

1971 Aerial photo taken during construction of the Victoria Center in Nottingham.

“It lends itself to a complete new downtown development and there is very little of it. We are fortunate that the station has been closed and it leaves us with a hole in the ground, about 15 acres, 60 feet deep. at one end and 30 at the other.

“It has been a boon both from an economic standpoint, so that we can give Nottingham a city center of around 20 acres absolutely traffic-free.”

Remarkably enough, the city has almost come full circle, with the Greater Broad Marsh now offering a very similar opportunity to produce another traffic-free development based on accommodation and amenities in the downtown area.

Although the Victoria Center and accompanying apartments were completed in 1972, they differed considerably from the original plans.

Mr. Swift envisioned a sprawling, multi-level mall, almost cyberpunk in its scale and mega-structural design.

The first sketches of the interior of what is now the Victoria Center could have been taken directly from science fiction films such as Blade Runner or Judge Dredd.

The final design, however, “paled in insignificance” according to John R. Gold in his book “The Practice of Modernism”.

The fixed numbers were brought down to 464, and the mall stopped at just two floors – the ground floor and the first floor.

In architectural sketches, the mall was simply colossal, with many floors hundreds of feet above the ground, while bridges crossed the downtown skyline almost like a KerPlunk game.

It’s a common story that almost all Brits are now familiar with when it comes to major infrastructure projects in the country, perhaps even more so in Nottinghamshire, with HS2 and the failed vision of the intu Broadmarsh Center providing more contemporary examples.

Despite their downsizing, apartments today remain as popular as ever, says Lucas.

“[The] Apartments have always been very popular to my knowledge, and when you think of social housing and towers, they sometimes get a bad reputation, ”he said.

“They always make a bold architectural statement, any type of tall building, and the styles of the 1960s and 1970s often aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

“It was like them or hate them approach.

“It’s interesting that, unlike a lot of high-rise housing, there is certainly a strong positive demand to live there from people today and to this day. Most people would probably find the apartments to be relatively spacious compared to many modern apartments. “

“At one point in the mid-1980s before I arrived in Nottingham, the instigation of a much safer entry system from the mall [was installed].

“There was a period in the 1980s when part of the apartments were reserved for students in connection with Trent Polytechnic.

“By the end of the 1980s it was coming to an end and I think it was because there was an increased demand from people looking for consultancy rentals.”

The A3 60048, named Doncaster, picked up speed pulling the Master Cutler from Nottingham Victoria station in June 1951 en route to London Marylebone.

Today, some apartments are even used as overhead B & Bs, while others are purchased under the Right to Buy program.

Interestingly, and different from the usual council towers, freehold is owned by the owner of the Victoria Center, a development deal at the time, and city council signed a 99-year lease.

What will happen in the 2060s will have to be “renegotiated,” Lucas added.

With many more potential towers in the works, this time for the ever-growing student body, the future of the city’s skyline looks set to change once again.

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Most notable include a new “tallest” building and a nine-story block for NTU that was recently approved.

For now, however, the brutalist Victoria Center block remains one of the city’s most unique buildings with a fascinating past.

Mr. Lucas provided research and an overview of a book on Nottingham Council Houses, authored by Chris Matthews, and titled Houses and Places – A History of Nottingham Council Houses.

The title can be purchased at most reputable bookstores in the city.

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