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Mind (the) Gap

Part 1 Project 2009
Peter Sagar
Newcastle University, UK
Gateshead’s fractured centre provides the basis for this exploration of urban connection and isolation. Major roads and railways covering the city centre make pedestrian travel difficult and have, in spite of it’s proximity, divorced Gateshead from Newcastle, it’s neighbour to the north of the Tyne.

Gateshead’s future development is dependent upon addressing these issues and it is within this context that opportunities to re-connect the city with it’s people and surroundings begin to emerge.

The Centre for Urban Research occupies the gap between Gateshead’s current landscape and it’s future. Promoting strategies for sustainable urban development and expansion, the Centre will seek to encourage densification of urban and suburban centres to help minimise pressure upon infrastructure and ensure the provision of easily accessible public outdoor space.

The centre also engages directly with the community of Gateshead. Exhibition spaces displaying drawings and models of major local projects help encourage a forum for debate whilst the lecture theatre and teaching space can be used for public presentations.

The design of the building itself is directly informed by its context adjacent to the high level bridge. The centre is perched on a disused railway platform sandwiched between two sandstone retaining walls and with a clear view of Newcastle to the north. The strong, vertical form of the building re-connects Gateshead with Newcastle’s more prominent sky line and introduces a landmark ‘gateway’ into the city.

The area around the high level bridge is full of tunnels, alleyways and changes in level and it is this rich background of journeying and intrigue which influenced the entrance and circulation in the lower part of the building. This is evident in the exhibition space which sits in what was previously the lower part of the platform, now excavated to create a cavernous and lofty space which echoes the tunnels and voids in the locality.

The rich layering of material present across Gateshead combined with the practical requirements for solar shading helped inform the design of the towers façade, culminating in a patchwork of copper alloy mesh and polished aluminium louvres, which reflect the afternoon sun over Newcastle.

Peter Sagar

MIND (THE) GAP - Connection, Disconnection and Belonging in a Remote Central Area of Gateshead

Whilst societies, economies and systems are in the ascendance, any criticism of them can appear churlish and embittered. Perhaps the current period of economic down-turn provides an opportunity for a more objective examination of the way in which we all live? Faced with the need to do more with less, human endeavour and enquiry should arguably focus, if not through choice then out of necessity, on researching and implementing solutions and strategies for a range of problems genuinely ‘common’ to today’s society. The methods employed should surely be COLLECTIVE rather than divisive, COLLABORATIVE rather than competitive, and CONVERGENT rather than divergent.

Each student project design houses a Research Facility into one of these ‘common’ problems whilst the project structure becomes a living research project itself, seeking to promote and test the methodologies outlined above.

Located on a remote yet central urban ‘island’ in Gateshead, the project area was identified COLLECTIVELY by students following a period of intensive mapping and urban analysis. Surrounded by railway infrastructure the site lies immediately to the southern end of Stephenson’s High-Level Bridge, well connected to central Newcastle lying just across the Tyne yet strangely isolated from central Gateshead which lies only a few hundred meters away.

Operating COLLABORATIVELY in small groups students then chose their own individual sites, not on the basis of personal desires and wishes but with reference to, and in consultation with, their colleagues. Resulting individual designs had then to relate and mediate not only with an existing urban context, but also with student contemporaries located on adjacent sites.

Rather than see the Research Facility as remote and disconnected from everyday life, each one incorporated a ‘linked’ public provision, with Peter arguing for the inclusion of new debating and exhibition facilities together with a range of small business start-up units alongside his Urban Design research provision. In order to promote CONVERGENCY, each individual was again asked to liaise with those on adjacent sites to ensure that the ‘linked’ provisions were complimentary and supportive rather than duplicative.


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