Pedestrian deck & subway network in Newcastle

6 01 2011

By Jun

Newcastle has a quite extensive network of pedestrian decks and underground ways segregated from traffic. The network makes it possible to stroll down all the way from the city library to the pub ‘Fever’ under the Tyne Bridge with minimum contact with vehicle traffic (also, of course, minimum contact with other pedestrians!) although the network is not completely connected and it actually terminates in the air above the pub.

Segregated pedestrian concrete structures often appear as an example of the failure of post-war modern architecture and urban design. The rationales of pedestrian protection and efficient movement flow misled the design by overestimating the idea of segregation and overlooking other qualities good streets better to have, such as livelihood.

For the same reasons, the segregated pedestrian network shown in the map cannot be said good space for travelling. Limited entry points make them virtually bridges over or under-ground providing relatively weak permeability and reducing possibility of optional activities. Rough finishing of exposed concrete gives deteriorated or intimidating atmosphere adding to empty shop/office blocks along the deck ways.

Some parts in the orange-colored and the yellow-colored are relatively often used by pedestrians when they are the only ways to cross over or under the major roads. However, it is almost impossible to see a single person in the red part (Yes, I wander around quite often) since the part is almost hidden from major pedestrian flow and the office buildings share their balcony space with the decks, are mostly empty.

However, even though it has many obvious design flaws, I found the space somehow interesting. 3-dimensionally organized space and ageing concrete surface (with no human there) give feeling of wandering around some ruins from distant time. The space could be rehabilitated in some way or completely re-built someday. I wouldn’t argue that the decks should be ‘listed’, but I would like to recommend you to visit. It might be demolished like the ‘Get Carter car park’.

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7 responses

6 01 2011
aaronmurphy18

I agree Jun. Many remnants of the radical 1960s remodelling of Newcastle appear flawed, especially in terms of public realm and legibility of space. However, there is definitely something to be said for the many decks and passageways which create unique albeit often underused links through the city. One interesting point to consider here is that many of the plans for multi level raised decks and separation of vehicle and pedestrian movements were not fully realised. Therefore, it is interesting to contemplate just how different the city would have been today, if the plans were fully realised. How would it have felt for pedestrians to walk across raised decks which led directly from the University Union building to raised decks above Northumberland Street? Ultimately, these often awkward, disconnected spaces provide interesting remnants of a period in the city’s history which saw arguably the greatest attempt at remodelling. Therefore, even if these areas do not work conventionally, they definitely offer a unique chance to reflect on days gone by in city planning, politics and theory.

7 01 2011
Lizzie Bird

Jun I definitely want to do the route that you’ve marked out (but maybe post Monday…!). Aaron I really liked your post just don’t think there can be a discussion about 1960’s Architecture without mention of the notorious T.D.Smith. Arguably the father of modernism in Newcastle Gateshead. Click on this link for a BBC article and video clips which talks about this ‘notorious’ figure and his part in developing ‘Cities in the Sky’.

Also a really interesting discussion about whether homage’s to 1960’s modernist architecture should be listed. I’m personally torn. I get the argument for listing estates such as the Barbican in London, Park Hill in Sheffield or even closer to home the Byker Wall in Newcastle, as fantastic examples of ground-breaking architecture. However for many this period of architecture and planning (and I guess the lack of urban design?) allowed and excused some real shockers – Hulme Crescent, Manchester and Cruddas Park Newcastle being just a couple that simply havn’t worked. So I’m saying (I think!) do list/ preserve the ‘good’ examples but when all the ‘bad’ examples have been torn down we shouldn’t look back through rose tinted glasses. For a true representation of this period of architecture and planning we should really remember the good, bad and ugly.

7 01 2011
aaronmurphy18

A really ineresting read on this top is the autobiography of T Dan Smith, its explains the ideas behind his visions and the development of other cities which deeply influenced him. The book is available at the Robinson Library.

13 01 2011
Lowri

Jun, Aaron, Lizzie, I agree. There are some really interesting (if not beautiful) quirky remnants of changing attitudes to city planning in Newcastle. I love that unfinished concrete walkway above Fever too. In 2007 at Northern Architecture we developed the first in a series of public tours looking at hidden aspects of the city, commissioned by Design Event, part of it follows your route. Have a look at the Urban Translation Newcastle tour online, it’s got quite a lot of info packed into it. http://www.northernarchitecture.com/northern-architecture/tours.html?tag=Newcastle

29 04 2011
patio deck

I agree that many of the plans for multi level raised decks and separation of vehicle and walker movements were not fully realized. Therefore, it is interesting to consider just how different the city would have been today, if the plans were fully realized. Thanks for knowledgeable information.

2 06 2011
sgibson72

I think some of this can also be related to the Colin Buchanan Report: Traffic in towns which suggested that the urban fabric of towns would need to be drastically remodelled if they were to accommodate greater car use. T D Smith must have taken this advice literally in his Vison for Newcastle becoming the ‘Brasilia of the North’.

A lot of redevelopment, both buildings and walkways are not surprisingly adjacent to the Central Motorway East which was the first of many urban motorway proposals for Tyne and Wear. So if all of this was ever completed: The Central Motorway West (which follows takes the line of St James Boulevard); an East West Underground Motorway as well as the Central Motorway East Bypass, we would have seen many more walkways across the city.

Eldon Square would have sat above the East-West Underground Motorway and rumour has it that the structure under Eldon Square that was the bus station (now its Waitrose etc) was ready for accommodating the motorway carriageways.

The proposals for the ShieldsRoad Motorway explains the architectural approach to the Byker Wall (to shield residents from traffic noise), and the Central Motorway East Bypass explains why the Gateshead Highway ends abruptly with a stub and dumps all its traffic onto ground level before the Tyne Bridge.

Lastly if anyone has been along the Central Motorway, you’ll also notice many concrete stubs along this route where slip-roads would have connected this route with the Central Motorway East Bypass.

Facinating as it is, the rest never happened except for a few very watered down versions of sections such as St James Boulevard and the sunked Shields Road Bypass of Byker (instead of a raised 3-lane motorway!!). Had it happened, I think Newcastle would have had its very own life size version of a ‘Matchbox’ Motorcity or ‘Hotwheels’ Set – set off along the Gateshead Highway through a maze of flyovers and tunnels and mysteriously get spat out somewhere near the Airport!

20 08 2012
Andy

Nice post! I think this incomplete pedestrian solution to getting around town is really interesting. In the days of T.Dan Smith it must have seemed like a step forward into a more logical, modern, urban landscape. But the social landscape didn’t change with the buildings. In the future promised we could have walked these deckways and felt safe, away from the traffic and dodging between well used offices and shops. In the actual future it’s far safer to be out in the open than in a hidden alley and the shops and offices are placed along main roads with better access and footfall. I walked along the lower section of this route and found it occupied by the homeless, one mans urban deckway is another’s shelter. Quite opposite to creating modern pedestrian access this design just seems to have created an interesting but unwelcoming environment. The same can be said for other iconic buildings of the time like the dunston rocket or get carter car park, a social misfire into a better future that never came.

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