The Twentieth Century Society has slammed FaulknerBrowns’ latest proposals for the multi-million pound refurbishment of George Kenyon’s 1968 Grade II*-listed Newcastle Civic Centre
The heritage group said it was objecting in the ‘strongest possible terms’ to the ‘short-sighted and overpowering redevelopment’ plans which would cause ‘substantial harm’ to what it describes one of the most important pieces of post-war civic architecture in the country.
The society is particularly concerned by ‘hugely detrimental’ proposals, set out in the planning application submitted last month, to glaze and infill the ground-floor colonnade to create a new entrance, and the construction of meeting pods and a café.
The organisation said it was upset that the City Council’s sympathetic approach adopted on the project’s earlier phases, namely alterations to the Rates Hall and Civic Suite, did not seem to have been carried through on this next phase of the centre’s ongoing revamp.
Clare Price, a senior conservation adviser at the society, said: ‘After pursuing a rigorous process of study to produce the conservation management plan, not to mention the resources and commitment from the council that this entailed, it is especially disappointing that it has been abandoned in this area of exceptional significance and substantial beauty.
‘This is not just a convenient space to be infilled; it forms an intrinsic part of the original design of the ceremonial approach to the Civic Centre. The significance and exceptional quality of this space have been entirely misconstrued by this application.’
Price added: ‘This significance does not lie solely with the piers of the colonnade but is expressed in the permeability of the space, the brick planes of the undercroft, the retractable artwork screens by Charles Sansbury and the relationship of this walkway to the ceremonial way.
‘The enclosure of this space will be hugely detrimental to the way the heritage asset is experienced on (and through) its most important elevation, and the introduction of pods, desks and other paraphernalia will contribute to blocking all views through to the central open spaces and artwork.’
However the proposals have been supported by Historic England - although the government’s heritage watchdog accepted the changes to the colonnade were significant.
The society describes the centre as having ‘clear Nordic influence’, with walls of Norwegian Otta slate ‘offset by the rich walnut and marble of the interiors and the aged copper finishings of the exterior.’
In the Architectural Review of July 1970 (Manplan 7: Local Government) the building was heralded as an ‘extraordinary … flamboyant folly’ and a ‘decorated palace of varieties’.
The council has been contacted for comment.
Crop of newcastle civic centre riba
Source: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Response from FaulknerBrowns
As with any project we undertake involving buildings of historical, architectural or civic significance, we welcome engagement from the public and organisations such as the Twentieth Century Society, and their feedback is extremely valued by us.
Our proposals for Newcastle Civic Centre were developed in response to the council’s aspiration to protect, preserve and enhance their unique heritage asset, extending its use as a civic facility and improving its environmental performance. The proposals have been informed by the principles set out in the conservation management plan, alongside a comprehensive dialogue with the public body Historic England, who are supportive of the scheme.
We have extended an invitation to the Twentieth Century Society, an organisation we have enjoyed constructive dialogue with in the past, to meet with us to discuss our proposals and their concerns in greater detail.