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Newcastle's hip hotel

The facades of Clash Architects’ budget hotel for the design-conscious Sleeperz chain are tailor-made for its Newcastle city centre context, writes Felix Mara. Photography by Ann Norman

The steep-banked River Tyne, its heroic bridges and the restless topography and hard-as-it-comes architecture of Newcastle’s city centre are the highlight of any railway journey from London to Edinburgh, better even than the organ blast of Durham Cathedral. It’s a context that new additions must break into: keeping a low profile isn’t an option.

This was the challenge Clash Architects faced when commissioned to add to the Sleeperz chain of design-conscious but site-specific low-budget hotels, working on an impossibly tight, over-conserved site which abuts Newcastle’s central railway station and tunnels into the arches below its track-level stratum with multi-purpose hotel space and lettable commercial units intended to regenerate its and diversify its surrounding milieu.

Whereas some buildings are compact, homogenous objects that project on to their surroundings, others are interstitial chameleons that reflect and adapt to their neighbours. Sleeperz Newcastle is both: a five-storey wedge that greets northbound trains with its blunt apex and cocks its oversailing roof like a banking railway carriage.

This roof slowly climbs eastwards from the point where it levels with its western neighbour, to its projection over the viewing terrace at its apex. Below a fully glazed fifth-floor setback, the north facade lines the gentle arc of Westgate Road. Its south side rises on the line of the railway-level raised ground at its east end, before setting off on a trajectory parallel to the north elevation, leaving a first-floor-level flat roof with skylights over the interiors below.

Clash Architects inflected and fine-tuned the facades, adjusting finishes, details and scale to complement the shifting context. Local ashlar Blaxter Sandstone-clad bookends frame the north and south facades. The bookend to the west, where the entrance is, rises above its neo-English Renaissance neighbour and its opposite number stacks up glass-box oriels beside the rusticated arches to the south, which it abuts with a wide shadow gap.

Between these bookends, the north facade absorbs daylight through floor-to-ceiling glass, which feels as hard as the neighbouring masonry seen in its subtly-graded rippled reflections. Ceramic-lined glass infills between twin aluminium mullion cover caps mask the cross-walls between hotel rooms, interrupted by continuous spandrel zones, which stretch between the bookends.

No gestures conceal the repetition of the hotel rooms behind this facade. It just sweeps along Westgate Street, narrow enough to avoid tedium, although the vertical curtain walling cover caps at ground level break into more random patterns.

The south facade, which has to contend with large solar heat loads and noise from the railway, is more opaque, with punctured openings like its neighbours to the west. The stone cladding at its east end screens a staircase, twin rooms and family rooms, whereas its western, cranked end is clad in aluminium diamond shingles with blue-grey zinc finish, with dark grey window pods which poke cheekily through, aligning with the railway line to enjoy the quayside views to the east.

‘The shingles’ module was generated by the dimensions of the windows protruding through them,’ says director Simon Bell of executive architect Archial, ‘and these will look more homogeneous as the zinc weathers.’ Inevitable D&B procurement compromises and downgrades took their toll, for example in the cover strips where the shingles meet the stone cladding.

But despite the loss of some of the original design’s richness, the composite glazing, juxtaposition of clear, translucent and white glass, timber internal shutters and openable windows, Clash Architects has packed a great deal into these lively facades. And, despite its transient use, Sleeperz Newcastle squares up to the permanence of its neighbours.

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