Michael Webb (*1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, wire frame axonometric, c. 1961. Black pen on mylar, 300 × 963 mm. © The architect.
The first thing you will notice about the Sin Centre, or Entertainments Centre as it was initially called, is that it lacks entertainments. Pour over the plans, but you will find no drawing lines suggesting the presence of a bowling alley or a restaurant or even a theatre. I forgot all about minor concerns like the brief while in pursuit of this notion of a design exclusively derived from the ecstasy of driving a car at high speed around and up through a building; or, if a pedestrian, of negotiating escalators built like amusement park rides that used a mechanically dubious design whereby a given caterpillar track can convey its riders in both directions. The design was the result of the structural and spatial demands of these two circulatory systems.
Michael Webb (*1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, elevation of car ramp system, 1961. Photocopy with yellow trace and red pantone overlay, mounted on board, 315 × 770 mm.
Michael Webb (*1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, elevation of car ramp system, 1961. Blackline print on illustration board, mounted on board, 340 × 764 mm.
Michael Webb (*1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, diagram of car ramp and pedestrian circulation systems, 1961. Pencil, type and collage on board, 280 × 215 mm.
I felt it important that the car ramps flowed seamlessly into the decks upon which these phantom accommodations were supposed to happen. This meant that the decks needed themselves to be ramped using compound curves … making inhospitable hosts for watching Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8. The building did not move; neither did it change its shape. It could be likened unto a jet airliner without a fuselage sitting on the runway. In fact, the inspiration, if you can call it that, for the shiny aluminium decks came directly from critical wing design; from sitting just behind the wing and watching that glorious moment of touchdown when the flaps were fully down and the spoilers up.
Michael Webb (1937). Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, plan of car ramp, 1961.
Michael Webb (*1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, perspective projection of Sin Palace, 1961. Ink and colour film overlay on card, 380 × 396 mm.
Once you had driven into one of the parking bays, or had reached the end of the escalator alive, there was not much left for you to do. The Sin Centre was a grand entrance inspired by the Futurist Manifesto. There are no entertainments to follow as a main course after the starters of one’s arrival because negotiating the ramp system of the escalators would have been entertainment enough … more than enough! The Sin Palace was a signature object … it was a fixed, permanent structure (although it quivered) meant to last. In its kit-of-parts assemblages of aluminium components, it can be inserted into a lineage beginning with Paxton’s Greenhouses and ending with the hi-tech boys.
– Michael Webb, 2010
Michael Webb (*1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London, isometric of car ramp, c. 1965. Pencil and graphite on airbrush board, 410 × 530 mm.
On Mark Dorrian's description of driving as drawing, in relation to the Sin Centre; for a short quote by Michael Webb on the amusements of Sin Centre; on an another project that delights in the ramp and the speed of the car, Zund Up's Auto Expander; and on the 2018 exhibition In/Out for which curator and designer Liz Diller thought the Sin Centre was integral.