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THE SAGE, GATESHEAD Gateshead council has pulled off a major coup with The Sage. The new international centre for musical performance and education has made wonderful use of a very difficult site teetering on the edge of the Tyne.

Purists may not be attracted by the Sage's glazed weather cover cheekily exposed in the direction of Newcastle. But for those inside the blobby structure, the neat simplicity of Foster and Partners' design is a huge boon both to performers and to their audiences. Three radically different performance spaces have been inserted into the steep bank of the Tyne in a way that gives superb accessibility both front of house for the audiences and back of house for servicing the performers.

Structurally, the performance spaces are isolated from each other and from vibration sources, such as the building's plant and machinery. There is a 1,650-seat concert hall, a formal rectangular performance hall and an intimate chamber which combines a classic balconied theatre-in-the-round with the feel of a recording studio. The entirely separate roof cover envelopes a superb open space with cafés, bars, and views over the Tyne, plus the public access routes to each theatre. Rarely, if ever, has the geography of concert halls or theatres been so easy to read.

For a project of any size funded by a local authority and consistent with the government's Better Public Building programme. Sponsored by Thomas Telford THE TEAM Client Gateshead council Cost £70 million Principal designer Foster and Partners Structural and services engineer Connell Mott MacDonald Contractor Laing O'Rourke Other firms Arup Acoustics, Buro Happold, Davis Langdon (cost consultant), Theatre Projects Consultants

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