Friday, December 6, 2013

What's it called? Cumbernauld!

Sometimes having a fertile imagination does no good at all. I am recovering from Scotland’s national book week where I was all over the place, including a new town called Cumbernauld.

Well, when I say new....
                                                The welcoming doors...

How many films does this remind you of?
In how many did the blonde get out alive?

                                  Yes, we ran from pillar to pillar, hiding from the mutant zombies

                                       We reached these doors in safety... but they were locked
                                            We were zombie fodder....

Looking a bit better, plenty of cover....we might just make it

The gates to the mutant zombie robot underworld.

Mutant zombie robots must also follow health and safety re fire exits...

The portal to the next dimension... and the escalator wasn't working there either. 

At this point we could hear footfall but there was nobody to be seen

We have passed this way before. Twice.

                                                   Going in the right direction..

                                                                  Or are we...

                                         We were defo being followed by something evil.....
                                          then a librarian came and scared them away....

                                                           safe and sound. Body parts intact.
                                                 Crime writers 1        Mutant Zombies 0

The library, the huge library, is well stocked and has one of the highest  lending rates in Scotland – no wonder, once you get there- alive with oxygen masks to cope with the altitude and phasers on stun -  you are so relieved you take out all the books you can. Just in case you don’t make it make back out.
Or maybe they use their books as weapons. A well aimed Harry Potter has been known to kill at six paces.

These long, long corridors echo of nothing, and go on for ever. They are cold, windy with a huge sense of abandonment and neglect.  As most of you know, Zoe Sharp can make an atomic bomb from a hat pin and a piece of Play do, she can disarm a man with a Lego brick and a tomato. She was not far from my mind the minute the mutant zombies entered it.

Kill them with your stiletto Caro, I heard her say.  Stiletto  heel in the throat, the other scraped down their shin. I must ask her what to do if aforesaid zombie mutants have neither throats or shins....
Fortunately I had my version of the soviet coat on as an armour of confidence.
Cumberland centre seems to be made up of buildings like this. The only bits occupied were the library and the nursery next to it. Floors and floors, corridors after corridor of nothing. There is a penthouse flat at the top of this building, nobody have ever lived in it.
                                             Even the new bits leave a lot to be desired

The saddest thing about it was the ten minute film  from the 70s that the library shows on a constant loop. Cumbernauld was built as an urban utopia… integrated, beautiful housing. Shops with parking. Cars and pedestrians kept well apart. Lots of green. Lots of very good ideas.

The Clyde Valley Regional Plan (1946) allocated sites  where new towns were to be built to help the severe overcrowding and poor housing in Glasgow.  Cumbernauld was designated a new town in 1955, the third to be designated in Scotland.

This place was voted by The American Architectural Association as the Best piece of architecture in the world… (Ok that was in the 1960’s). In  2002 it was voted the worst town in Scotland ( and that takes some doing!) but by 2010 it was voted most improved.   Although awarded the best town at Scottish design awards, it has won much more rather less flattering awards including  "Plook on a Plinth" in both 2001 and 2005. In December 2005 the entire Town Centre won a public nomination for demolition in a tv channel vote. It then won  "the worst building in Britain".
                                                   Looks good on paper....

"Cumbernauld is the most clear example of a modernist new town vision in the UK". says the website.  And a good example that folk don't like living in boxes and rabbit warrens.
But it had good ideas; the housing was in satellite neighborhoods clustered around the hilltop town centre. Separation of people and cars was vital. ( then they realised women do not like walking through underpasses late at night). People came from round the world to marvel at the architecture but the fact remained... nobody wanted to live there.
 Then to make it even more unpopular,  Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs was located there to provide employment.

The 'core' of Cumbernauld remains the Town Centre buildings which are all phases of one building the first of which was completed in 1967. I think that bit is now the mutant zombie play ground. But it its day, it was the first shopping centre in the UK and the first multi-level covered town centre. It never got to its planned size, the population numbers stalled and  it has never really 'lived' in the way it was conceived.
You can understand that millionaire playboys have better places to live than a cold, wet concrete jungle so the centre's penthouses located within the "alien's head"  lie empty and derelict.
A substantial portion of the original Shopping Centre was demolished due to structural damage and the the  passage of time has exposed serious defects in post-war concepts of centrally-planned retail and civic centres developed in the absence of proper community consultation.
We are all aware of the backlash against modernist architecture in general and  Cumbernauld's Town Centre is right up there as the best example of the worst.
 The confusing layout is an abiding source of frustration for both visitors, residents and visiting crime writers.,.                                              
But history will show that Cumbernauld  was born in a significant moment in town design and in 1993 it was listed as one of the 60 sixty key monuments of post-war architecture.

However, common sense has prevailed and the town's housing is now well planned and  generally considered a bit posh. The central part has become exactly that and is a great shopping centre that is thriving in the credit crunch.  Sevy Ballasterous designed the golf course and the new housing looks outward to the Campsie fells. The bit of the concrete megastructure we were in is due for demolition, or they might wait until it falls down. Half the new New Town as originally envisaged was never built. 
Today, it  is a nice place to live and work. I'm sure the bit round the library should advertise itself to the thriving Scottish film industry as zombie territory or the refuse collection point of a hyperdrive alien space craft. A murder in the wheelie bin of an alien space craft--- I'm holding that thought.

Caro 6th Dec  2013 


  1. Having been raised in the place where George Romero filmed "The Night of the Living Dead," and later moving into the community where the original "Friday the Thirteenth" was shot ("Whose woods are these I think I know" came to mind in a chilling rather than Frost-y way when I saw the film) I fully understand your trepidations at entering what looks to be architecture's example of a camel: "a horse built by committee."

    Hmmm, perhaps the next time I take a walk in my woods I should follow Zoe's lead and wear a sort of fashion statement defense against zombies.

  2. Jeff, I don't scare easily but the thought of you in stilettos......

  3. Caro, the best defense against mutant zombies is to always travel with someone who can't run as fast as you can. Jeff in stilettoes.... hmmm....

  4. Still haunted by that thought.I may need counselling...

  5. Have no fear, they'll be tasteful Jimmy Choo's....

  6. This is why I am encouraging all morticians and undertakers to tie together the shoelaces of the recently deceased, so in the event of a zombie apocalypse, the rest of us will have a fighting chance ...

  7. What a brilliant post! Cumbernauld town centre is one of my favourite examples of brutalist architecture going wrong, the collection of photos and text sum up the insane building perfectly