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Scaling the heights

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Amberley House in Killingworth, Newcastle upon Tyne, was conceived on a heroic scale: two nine-storey towers on top of a twostorey podium on a steeply sloping site. But FaulknerBrowns' conversion has taken it down a peg or two by lopping off some of its storeys.

The original building was never fully occupied, and went to seed almost as soon as it was completed in 1972. The walkways which linked the towers proved to be structurally unsound and were demolished, and the whole complex became a target for vandals. The last occupants left in 1990 and the building became a festering tower block that represented all Modernism's failures.

The local authority bought the site and appointed FaulknerBrowns to refurbish the building as part of an urban regeneration strategy. A tight budget of £3 million, along with concerns about partial-occupation, prompted the decision to chop five storeys from one tower and six from the other, making the building more in scale with its surroundings. FaulknerBrowns stripped the remaining storeys down to the structure, and removed the existing services, including the plant rooms under the podium.

The replanned building, now called the White Swan Centre, provides 4,000m 2ofspace which houses facilities from a recently demolished nearby community centre, including a health centre, adult education centre, library, multi-purpose hall, cafe, offices and a church.

Although simple in theory, the design had to overcome some significant constraints.

The skeleton of steel columns and beams, supporting very thin, reinforced concrete floor slabs, revealed a structure which was not as regular as it seemed. The architect had to design significant tolerance into the new metal cladding and internal partitions to cater for columns that were out of line: the plinths to the towers are clad in grey split-faced masonry blockwork, but the upper storeys are clad in white PVF2-coated metal panels with integral windows.

FaulknerBrowns carved out the space between the towers in order to create a lowerlevel courtyard and bring light into the dark basement, and enclosed the entrance to provide a new foyer and access between the towers at each level. A sloping glass roof sweeps up from the courtyard to the parapet and translucent and coloured glass blocks frame the curve of the stairwell to create a welcoming environment. The library and hall are air conditioned, but the bulk of the building is naturally ventilated with openable windows and heating via radiators.

In architectural terms, it might have made more sense to flatten the site and start from scratch, but issues concerning politics and funding meant that total demolition was not an option. Instead, FaulknerBrowns has successfully adapted a dilapidated building which is helping contribute to the area's regeneration.


CLIENT North Tyneside Council

ARCHITECT FaulknerBrowns

PROJECT MANAGER Summers (Project Management)

QUANTITY SURVEYOR Summers & Partners



SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS blockwork Forticrete; roofing Sarnafi; cladding Kalzip Recessed Joint Facade System; ceilings Ecophon; glass blocks Luxalon; carpets Interface Europe; render Sto

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