Tributes as ‘charismatic’ architect Owen Luder behind Portsmouth's doomed Tricorn Centre dies at 93

TRIBUTES have been paid to the ‘tour-de-force’ architect behind the Tricorn Centre who has died.

Tricorn Centre, left, and architect Owen Luder
Tricorn Centre, left, and architect Owen Luder

Accomplished Owen Luder, 93, outlived the brutalist building in Charlotte Street which was demolished in 2004.

The concrete icon, opened in 1966, was voted Britain’s ugliest building in 2001, and a bid to list it with English Heritage failed - paving the way to its destruction.

Today its architect, who died on October 9, has been recognised as a ‘pioneer’ who seized on the commercial potential of buildings he designed.

Owen Luder, centre, pictured in 2009 as he meets joint authors Robert Cook and Celia Clark who wrote The Tricorn: The Life and Death of a Sixties Icon. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Experienced architect Mick Morris, based in Waterlooville, has memories of driving his Alfa Romeo in second gear up the ramps at the Tricorn to get to the nightclub.

He said Mr Luder was a ‘charismatic figure’ with ‘quite a showbiz feeling to him’ – and said in his later years he encouraged many to become architects.

But he said the Tricorn Centre was ‘wonderfully flawed from the word go’ with no insulation in the flats, pipes freezing and no sun penetrating the building as it was raised on the south.

He said: ‘The brief wasn’t very good and the detailing was terrible but if you half-closed your eyes in sunglasses after a couple glasses of scotch it was marvellous.’

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On its architect, Mick said: ‘He was a charismatic guy, he was good at getting work, good at concepts but… the brief was terrible.

‘Nobody really thought about it and the detailing was awful.’

He added: ‘Nobody would have minded if it had been successful.’

Designed with a market in mind the centre missed its mark with the rise of the supermarket, he added, and the vehicle access was not good enough for modern HGVs.

Southsea-based architecture historian Celia Clark co-wrote The Tricorn: The Life and Death of a Sixties Icon and met Mr Luder several times, including at his 90th birthday.

‘It’s sad to see him gone,’ she told The News.

‘He was really a tour-de-force and he was very unusual in that he was interested in the actual commercial possibilities of development and he also worked those out.

‘What he did at the Tricorn Centre was actually, I think, a pioneer building in that he realised that in a city that’s very short of land it’s very sensible to put the different functions on top of each other and that’s the first time that had been done in this country.

‘You had shopping and a car park, fruit and veg, retail, and the pub and the nightclub and then flats and then multi-storey on top, and that had never been done before.’

Celia said - despite often repeated claims - Prince Charles did not refer to the Tricorn as ‘a mildewed lump of elephant droppings’.

‘All that is trash,’ Celia said, and added the Prince of Wales was quoting another person when he used the reference.

She said: ‘It should have been listed but there was prejudice against commercial property by English Heritage.’

Mr Luder said the Tricorn had been ‘unfairly pilloried’ in the press and when the listing bid was refused he said it was a ‘great pity’.

There is now hope for redevelopment of the area as Portsmouth City Council now owns all land required to kickstart regeneration.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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