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24 September 2014

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How We Built Britain

Byker Wall
Byker Wall gains international attention

How We Built Britain

The BBC is running its How We Built Britain project to take a look at development and architectural issues around the country. Expert John Pendlebury picks out some talking points around Tyneside.

As a senior lecturer at Newcastle University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, John Pendlebury is in a good position to pick out a selection of Tyneside's architectural issues.

He chooses four for starters - the building legacy of the 1960s in Newcastle, the Byker redevelopment, Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides and buildings that will be considered important in the future.

The 1960s legacy

T Dan Smith was known as Mr Newcastle in the 1960s with his vision of Newcastle as the 'Brasilia of the North'.

Newcastle Civic Centre
The civic centre was opened in 1968

He had a vision of modernising that included urban motorways, a metro and high profile architecture. He was also an advocate of culture and high rise housing.

But he was also a controversial figure and he was involved in a corruption scandal which involved him serving six years behind bars.

John said: "It was a time of high ambitions. It is interesting to ask whether any of the architecture of that period has any qualities which are enduring.

"Most people will look at some of the buildings of that period with quite critical eyes, for example Westgate House.

"But they are also fast disappearing, for example the central library is currently being demolished and Westgate House has gone.

"But then others, like the civic centre, are listed."

John said despite the negative elements, T Dan Smith did think ahead of his time, hoping to make Newcastle an important regional centre and a European city.

He said: "He wrote very much about the decline of manufacturing and industry and the importance of delivering new cultural industries.

Byker Wall
The wall won listed status in January 2007

"I think for all his faults he was forward-thinking. He had high ambitions and did try and get very good quality architecture but I have to say he didn't succeed. A lot of things that did get built aren't viewed favourably."

Among the buildings he picks out as positive contributions from the era include the civic centre, Jesmond Vale House and some of the university buildings, such as the Herschel Building.

The Byker redevelopment

This project included the iconic Byker Wall housing estate, which was the work of architect Ralph Erskine.

The Byker Estate was built between 1969 and 1982 and received Grade II listed status in January 2007.

John said: "I think that's something which has a truly international significance. It clearly attracts a lot of international interest.

"I think it was innovative at the time. It was a big shift in the way that social housing was done, from brutalist town houses to something very different in physical and architectural form.

"It had a very different design ideology, a very different consultation process. A lot more effort was put into keeping the public informed."

He said it was also important in terms of its enduring legacy and the influence on other housing projects.

Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides

Webcam image of Newcastle and Gateshead quayside
There has been much development in the area

The Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides have been sites of a great deal of change over the last decade.

Developments like the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Baltic, Sage Gateshead and flats on both sides of the river have transformed the area.

John said it is noticeable that most of the major pieces of architecture have come from the public sector, compared to somewhere like London where landmark buildings tend to be commercially built.

He said the reason for that is land and development values on Tyneside are nowhere near the levels of London.

He said: "I think different people have different things to say but I think broadly you get a consensus that some things are very good, some things are not so good and some things have more divided opinion.

"I think it's one where the verdict is up to posterity to decide."

The future

As far as buildings that are considered important in the future, John believes they will be those which show a strong awareness of the environment. So that might be buildings which are carbon neutral or self-sustaining.

John said: "I think in terms of building legacies, to go beyond the major icons, and consider what might be important in the future.

"That could be things that are carbon neutral.

"Posterity may be looking for things that may fit in with low carbon principles."

last updated: 01/06/07
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How We Built Britain

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