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Ipswich Icons: Architecture to enjoy... but where to park all our cars?

PUBLISHED: 15:00 16 March 2015

Crown House in Ipswich

Crown House in Ipswich


For the past half century it has been a basic design principle that buildings are set forward on their plot and that car parking is hidden (around the back). It is a principle that we have both failed and forgotten.

Crown House and multi-storey car park in 1980Crown House and multi-storey car park in 1980

Most notably with private housing where setting the building forward has left just enough space for vehicle parking. Thus the full architectural attractiveness of the property is difficult to appreciate and usually impossible to photograph. The architecture is, in a word, lost to the motor car.

There are some notable exceptions, particularly with the office buildings in Ipswich. The classic example is of course Willis where the cars and the service yard have been unseen since the building’s inception.

The Willis building extends to the back of the pavement on all four elevations and cleverly has the back yard hidden within the curtain wall. Close by, both of the Guardian Royal Exchange (as it was) buildings in Civic Drive have the car parking contained in a multi-storey block behind the offices, with the buildings standing proud alongside the highway.

When Crown House was designed by architects Robert Saunders and Associates there was much debate about the location of the car park. The local authority at the time wanted an 800-space multi-storey and the developer 200 spaces for the occupants of his proposed offices. The developer’s initial thoughts were to use the ground floor of the building as a car park and set the office accommodation on the floors above, much as they have done in Hyde Park House, further west along Crown Street.

The local authority had other ideas and set aside 200 spaces in the proposed multi-storey, the whole of which was to be hidden behind Crown House. Planners also recommended that Crown House be divided into two, separated and connected by the entrance foyer and stairs, each building L-shaped on plan. This had the beneficial effect of reducing the potential of a canyon-like gully between Crown House and the existing William Pretty’s Corset Factory which still stood four storeys high across the road behind Electric House.

The development of land north of Crown Street happened in the early 1970s. The site of Egerton’s Garage (directly opposite the bus station) was owned by London property developer, the Graylaw Group. Immediately west of the garage bounded by the remnants of Peel Street, Beck Street and Fitzroy Street, the houses having been demolished in a slum clearance scheme, was a large surface car park owned by the council.

The first thing to happen was a land swap, with the developer getting part of the car park and the council getting the much more central garage site (on which they later built Crown Pools). Ipswich market operated from this site for some ten years once the garage had been demolished.

Architects Thomas Saunders were initially commissioned to design both Crown House and the multi- storey and achieved a splendid “pair” of buildings that complemented each other. Both Crown House and the multi-storey car park adjacent were to be similar in style using the same multi- textured brown ‘Ipswich’ bricks manufactured by Brockley’s.

However, it was not to be and the local authority was persuaded to choose the much cheaper ‘design and build’ model and the Thomas Saunders’ scheme was severely compromised. Crown House was however constructed as proposed, built by the local firm of Fairclough of Hadleigh Road, Ipswich.

The usual continuous horizontal lines of windows along each floor, the norm for offices at this time, were replaced by much smaller glazed areas with a vertical appearance, an illusion which reduced the bulk of the building.

Reducing the fenestration was also an energy saving feature that was innovative at this time. However the reduction in natural daylight required additional internal lighting adding 5% to energy costs, but the reduction in heat loss was between 10% and 12% together with a saving of 4% of building costs.

The cost savings in the multi- storey car park were, unfortunately like all cheap schemes, to come with a sting in their tail. It cost significantly more in maintenance and repair (and some would argue aesthetic design) and the car park was eventually demolished (2009).

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