Norco House, Aberdeen
Norco House, Aberdeen – Covell, Matthews & Partners (1966-70)
Risk: Substantial demolition
Norco House was built in 1966-70 by Covell, Matthews and Partners as a department store for the Northern Co-operative Society. After being acquired by John Lewis Partnership, it was refurbished and extended before re-opening in 1989. This was the most northerly John Lewis branch in the country and for many years outperformed its peers in Edinburgh and Glasgow. However the store closed during the Covid-19 lockdown and the retailer confirmed its closure was permanent in July 2021.
Probably the most distinctive post-war building in the ‘Granite City’ of Aberdeen, the four-storey, brutalist ziggurat presents a striking contrast to the smaller-scale traditional stone buildings that surround it, but uses a granite aggregate. Its elevations above the ground floor display windows are formed from sculptural and expressive angled vertical concrete ribs, with continuous clerestory windows. It represents the last wave of independent, stand-alone department store design in Scotland prior to the emergence of shopping centres.
First considered for listing in 2007 as part of a Historic Environment Scotland survey of Aberdeen city centre, it was rejected due to the extent of alteration to the building as a whole. It was assessed again in 2019/20 and although the George Street and St Andrew Street elevations were confirmed to be of special interest at Category B, it was again rejected for listing because of the potential impact on the building and neighbouring development proposals.
The site was most recently used as a temporary Covid vaccination centre and an ambitious proposal for it to house a Scottish outpost of the Natural History Museum (following the opening of a satellite branch of the V&A in Dundee) was floated in February 2022, but discussions between city councillors and DCMS reportedly stalled. A new George Street Masterplan has proposed several options for both the retention and demolition of the building, but without listing its long-term future remains uncertain.
How to help: Support the retention of Norco House within the George Street Masterplan by writing to Aberdeen City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org and look out for forthcoming planning applications.
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