Cumbernauld town centre: demolition plans and why it looks so strange

Cumbernauld town centre is certainly a bizarre landmark just outside of Glasgow - but just why does it look the way it does?

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North Lanarkshire Council announced earlier this year their plans to demolish the building that forms Cumbernauld’s town centre and build a new town hub.

The town centre building has been compared to a low-end shopping centre, and is almost universally disliked by locals and visitors alike - it was voted ‘Britain’s most hated building’ in 2005 by Channel 4’s programme Demolition.

After being named Scotland’s worst town centre by the Carbuncle Awards twice, the community voted in favour of developing a new town hub that involves demolishing the existing centre for a people-focused site with an outdoor square.

Designed in the late 1950s, the idea for Cumbernauld town centre was well ahead of its time, and resembled the architecture described in early twentieth century dystopian sci-fi novels.

Architects hoped to develop the megastructure as ‘one huge multi-storey building’ to host housing, shops, apartments, a hotel, an ice rink, police station, and other units.

There was a huge buzz around the idea of a brutalist structure where residents could cross in walkways above ahead as cars zoomed underground.

Architectural critic Wolf von Eckardt wrote in respected American magazine Harper’s in 1965:”Leonardo da Vinci, nearly five hundred years ago, envisioned a city where all the vehicles move underground, leaving man to move freely in the sun.

“Leonardo might also have sketched Cumbernauld’s town center, a soaring citadel surrounded by meadow.”

Despite everyone’s high hopes for the centre, and comparisons to works of Italian renaissance-men aside, it fell flat.

Built over a dual-carriageway, the town centre originally hosted shops, a hotel, ice rink, bowling alley, health centre, technical college, penthouse apartments, library, as well as police, fire,  and ambulance stations.

Over the years parts of the centre would fall off from the building and into separate sites for practical reasons - like the police station, ambulance, and fire stations.

The monolith’s disarranged shape would be further muddled with new buildings, while other parts of the megastructure would be demolished, further lending to its odd shape and design.

It’s not controversial to call the building a failed project, as the council published plans to level the site, by the time it comes the centre will be filled with little more than vacant office sites.

Covid-19 killed the existing business the centre had, and many retail units and sites within the centre now lay empty.