Inside the Collection

‘Get Carter’ car park

Black and white image of a multistoried carpark
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

There’s been an interesting heritage controversy recently about the car park which ‘starred’ in the movie Get Carter. The Trinity Centre parking tower overlooking Gateshead in north-east England features in several Get Carter scenes, notably one in which Jack Carter, played by Michael Caine, throws a corrupt businessman to his death.

Since it was released in 1971, Get Carter has assumed classic status with both critics and fans. So has the parking tower, known for years as the ‘Get Carter car park’ and promoted as a local attraction by Gateshead Council. So the Council may genuinely have felt mixed feelings in ordering its demolition, despite pleas from the tower’s architect and others. Film buffs were given a last opportunity to visit the tower before demolition began a few weeks ago.

Generically, car parks are not attractive places to be so Get Carter is one of many films to use them as locations for murders and other forms of nastiness. However, car parks can have a visual appeal as in David Mist’s 1960s photo of Sydney’s Kent Street car park. Designed by the leading practice Morrow & Gordon, Kent Street car park was opened in 1956 when cars were still viewed as unambiguous symbols of progress and modernity. David’s photo captures some of this spirit and I featured it in the PHM book Cars and culture: Our driving passions.

Kent Street car park was demolished a few years ago, an event which attracted no comment or protests. Yet it had a similar visual appeal to a new car park completed this year at Miami Beach, Florida. 1111 Lincoln Road has attracted wide attention because it was designed by the Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron, famous for making aesthetic statements out of functional buildings such as stadiums.

Their take on a parking tower could be described as retro-Brutalist, featuring plenty of unpainted concrete. Externally its cleverest feature is that ‘the railings are made of steel cable so thin that it is practically invisible from a few feet away; the cars look as if they were parked at the edge of a cliff’.

More importantly, 1111 Lincoln Road’s floors (also see here) are individual and some are lofty spaces, avoiding the claustrophobic stacking system that constitutes most such buildings. It also includes shops (and not only at ground level), a rooftop penthouse and swimming pool and, like Trinity Square, an elevated restaurant. It will be interesting to see if this multi-function car park works out socially and commercially.

Miniature model of a carpark
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The PHM collection has some interesting artefacts of parking stations, including the above model made about 1935 by engineer Francis Henry Allport. The model proposed four movable concentric floor sections; each could rotate to allow cars to be driven in or out. Sydney City Council wasn’t interested in Allport’s proposal, but it’s easy to imagine its cinematic possibilities.

3 responses to “‘Get Carter’ car park

  • Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has a piece about the success of 1111 Lincoln Road:

    I’m getting married, so get me to the car park on time
    Michael Barbaro
    January 25, 2011

    MIAMI BEACH: For her wedding at the weekend, Nina Johnson worked through a predictable checklist of locations in town: hotel ballrooms, restaurant halls and catering outfits.

    In the end, though, she opted for the most glamorous, upscale and stylish setting she could find – a car park.

    ”When we saw it, we were in total awe,” said Ms Johnson, 26, an art gallery director.

    ”It’s breathtaking.”

    Parking buildings call to mind many words – rats, car fumes, beer cans, unidentifiable smells. Breathtaking is not usually among them.

    Yet in Miami Beach, bridal couples, bar mitzvah boys and charity-event hosts are flocking to a $US65 million parking building in the centre of the city.

    Created by a colourful Miami developer and a world-renowned architecture firm, it appears to be a new form: a piece of architecture that resembles a gigantic loft apartment, with exaggerated ceiling heights, 360-degree views and no exterior walls.

    The structure is so distinctive that Ms Johnson put its image on her 230 wedding invitations.

    The car park, known as 1111 Lincoln Road, has an unlikely back story. Its developer, a contemporary art collector, Robert Wennett, bought the property in 2005, inheriting a drab-looking bank office and an unremarkable car park at the corner of two well-known boulevards.

    Quirky zoning regulations in the city, which is chronically short on parking, made it profitable to build a large car park.

    Mr Wennett, who says he hates most car parks he has used, aimed high, interviewing 10 top architects around the world. He settled on Herzog & de Meuron, a Swiss firm best known for transforming a power station into the Tate Modern gallery in London and designing the Olympic stadium in Beijing.

    Mr Wennett told the architects he wanted something like a train station’s grand hall: big, airy, light-filled and head-turning.

    What they produced was all those things: a car park with staggered floor heights of up to 10 metres; a striking internal staircase, with artwork embedded in its base; precarious looking ledges that rely on industrial-strength cable to hold back cars and people; and a glass cube that houses a designer clothing store, perhaps the first in the middle of a car park.

    ”It’s really a civic space,” Mr Wennett said.

    The New York Times

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