1960s Architecture: Newcastle & Gateshead

4 01 2011
By Aaron Murphy
An area of urban design and architecture in which I have a long standing interest centres around values and perceptions of 1960s architecture. This was my chosen topic for my undergraduate dissertation in Town Planning. This year I have noticed that many of the issues raised in my dissertation are particularly pertinent to the first term of the MAUD course and modules. Notable was the Tyne Bridge Tower Project, in which we carried out a large amount of research and analysis into the MU7 development area of Gateshead, and its surroundings. In the initial weeks students focused on site analysis, and through watching presentations, it became clear that different students had different perceptions of 1960s architecture.

Of particular significance in relation to this were perceptions towards the Tyne Bridge Tower, a former office block and the most dominant structure on our site. Additionally, analysis of the surrounding area brought about arguments over what strengths and opportunities the site held. Many students picked up on the fact that the Gateshead site, lacked identity and character and from this point went on to address what exactly Gateshead was known and famous for. At this point in analysis various students, from both the UK and abroad talked about their knowledge of the Gateshead Trinity Car Park, aka the Get Carter Car Park, which was recently demolished. Although not all students admired the structure for its architectural qualities, it is fair to say that most students were acutely aware of its cult status and in this way felt sad that a part of Gateshead’s Cultural heritage had been lost.

My dissertation focused on a variety of 1960s structures in Newcastle and Gateshead, including the Tyne Bridge Tower and the Car Park, and I found it interesting to compare the views of MAUD students to those of the public and built environment professionals that I interviewed for the dissertation. What strikes me is that whilst the modernist period has suffered a long period of heavy criticism and rejection, (in the same that other styles such as the now loved Victorian style did); views of period may now be softening.  The 1960s was a period of great change, of pioneering visions, architecture was stripped down to bare structural essentials, vast areas were cleared to make way for modern structures, and people came to associate this new architecture with the loss of the old and with social and economic hardships at the time. However, recently structures such as Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Barbican have been listed, and whilst much of the period is still being targeted for demolition despite functionality, and embodied energy, there does seem to be recognition that not everything built in the period was bad. The period gave birth to pioneering new methods and techniques in building, such as concrete and whilst much of this was problematic, it certainly provided lessons for future development.

As with most on the MAUD course, built environment professionals felt it best to demolish the Tyne Tower, in order to make way for more sympathetic development, whilst stating that the building was a perfectly functional piece of its time. With regards to Owen Luder’s car park, people seem to love it or hate it, and it was this factor which caused controversy right up to the point of its demise. Architects and the general public that I interviewed held a view common amongst students; that the building was iconic and culturally significant. However, that was all that was agreed on as some architects felt it could be creatively remodeled whilst others wrote it off for the amount of cost that this would involve.

To conclude, it would seem that just as with every period and style of architecture, there are different qualities of developments; some will be exceptional others poor quality, but the whole matter of taste and values which people attach to buildings are highly subjective.




One response

25 03 2011
El Patron

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