London’s Beautiful Winding Car Parks: An Appreciation

Look into my eyes and tell me that this is not a work of sublime beauty:

You’re salivating at the Romford’s Brewery shopping center exit ramp. You are not the first. It is a thing of restrained majesty; a patient coil of concrete; a spring mushroom; a brutalist pinball bumper.

It should be listed immediately, along with the winding, over-stilted entrance ramp to the Brasserie. Modern Wonders of the World… or, at least, of Romford.

A slightly winding entrance ramp to a parking lot with a giant tower behind

Roll-up parking lots of this caliber are rare, but not unheard of. A similar and even larger stable mate supports the Pavilions shopping center in Uxbridge.

A spiral parking ramp.  A flatter building on the right is accented with anti-conservative graffiti

This version somehow lacks the grace of its playmate Romford. It could be the lack of a mushroom gill roof or the lower curve compromised by the mesh. Maybe it just needs a lick of paint. He’s still a handsome, witty boy, and boasts a significant amount of anti-conservative graffiti in the adjoining walkway.

And there’s more. Just outside London in Watford is a third helical auto shop so divine it has its own halo.

A spiral parking lot with a church in the background

It’s not often that a modern building can top a medieval church, but there really is no competition here, is there?

The examples continue. Wood Green Mall is shy with its charms, but you can see the hidden beauty in the 3D satellite view:

Wood Green Shopping Center Car Park

Isn’t that dreamy? Meanwhile, Harrow has their own take on the curvy exit ramp, with a wider coil and brick facing:

All are underrated beauties. All enhance the streetscape. Even toddlers know the value of a skillfully executed exit ramp:

A fisher price garage with a yellow spiral ramp attached to a toy garage on a hardwood floor

Someone on Twitter will have, by now, accused me of promoting car culture – of championing the internal combustion engine in a time of climate emergency. Not even a little. We can still eye the Chrysler Building in New York without owning a Chrysler. The Shell Building on the Thames side and the Shell Mex House are much admired structures originally commissioned by Big Oil. Likewise, the exquisite reels of Romford, Watford and Uxbridge wouldn’t exist without the automobile, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate their shapes. Moreover, these things to eat cars. The scratches on the interior walls of the railings testify to a thousand insurance claims.

The Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
The Tower of Babel. It would have made an admirable multi-storey car park if it had existed in our time…or, in fact, not at all.

We also hope these remarkable convolutions survive their original purpose. What goes around comes around. Just look at Peckham Levels to see how a car park can be reinvented as a cultural and commercial space. Imagine these buildings as hanging gardens, or skate parks, or multi-story galleries, or industrial escape rooms, or housing estates. Our mushroom-shaped friend in Romford could become a real mushroom house.

Let’s celebrate London’s glorious spirals for what they are now and what they could become – just around the bend.

All images are by the author, except (obviously) the Tower of Babel, painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder; and the view of the Wood Green shopping centre, which unfortunately was never painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.