Blue Carpet

Blue Carpet
Sat 26th  Jan., 2002

The much awaited Blue Carpet opened this week. The area around the rump of New Bridge Street has been declared traffic free and is now covered in special blue tiles made from glass and resin.

As part of the Millennium Art scheme, this project won the competition held by the city council in 1996.

The winning designer, Thomas Heatherwick, born in 1970, gained an MA from the Royal College of Art in 1994, and has been involved in public art and design since then.

He opened a studio workshop in King's Cross in London and has been involved in some innovative schemes, including a hairy building in Belsay.

Carpet seat
Bollards pop through

The project hit several snags, including the wrong colour tiles and arson at the building site.

The whole thing cost 1.4m ($2m) (2.3m Euro) with funding being shared between Arts Lottery Fund, European Improvement Fund, and Newcastle Council.

The carpet theme is here shown in these bollards, actually part of the project, seemingly poking through the flexible covering.

Small luminaires beneath make the joke clear at night with an eerie red glow.

This view from Higham Place shows the new Newcastle Building Society development. This unremarkable yet well crafted collection of structures was erected around a listed building.

Carpet's eye view

There are some peeled back sections that at once form seating and little windows into subterranean display cases.

Today they contained mirrors and coloured strip lights. The intention is use these spaces as mini galleries for historical pieces to encourage further investigation at the Laing.

Much time and money was wasted in the production of the wrong coloured tiles. They are manufactured from glass shards as an aggregate in a resin base.

The key feature is that the colour remains the same, even when the tiles become worn with years of footsteps.

Glass and resin tile
Laing, Higham Place

This new space was described as "thrilling" in a recent Council publication. Now, I don't see this.

I was rather disappointed by the rather weedy colour; I was expecting a more saturated blue. I find it hard to imagine where those money millions went.

I do like the quirky twists, and those little underground display cabinets are great, if only they contained something interesting.

This section of town has seen the work of some renowned architects as well as being the home to one of the most famous, John Dobson.

The Laing Gallery was built in 1903 by Cacket Burns & Dick and is replete in Edwardian Baroque. This Higham Place elevation is splendid, but the opposite side is blank.

Here is that blank portion. Well, partly. This new entrance lobby, with is faintly Egyptian lotus feel, was added ion 1997.

Until the late 1960s the Central Library building adjoined the Gallery at this point, hence the blank walls today. The Library was pulled down to make way for the new central access route, John Dobson Street.

A new 1960s elevated concrete box was thrown together for the library. We have to thank a more thoughtful approach to the built environment for the better quality, appearance and functionality of today's newer structures.

In a crowded city it is a real bonus to have open spaces, even if not originally structured as such. Our 60s predecessors would have attacked such a project with a demolition ball and a concrete mixer.

Laing new entrance
Curl seat
Spiral staircase
Spiralling stairs
Carpet curl at the Laing

New Bridge Street was chopped here in the early 1970s to make way for the Central Motorway. This hotel was thrown up as a hideous wall with a raised platform leading to pedestrian bridges over the intersection. A bus only link was incorporated, but the effect was to close off this east/west route.

Here a new spiral stairway has been erected as part of the project. It was designed and built by McNulty, shipbuilders.

Here the steel and wood fabrication is intended form a helical ribbon leading down to the Blue Carpet.

The timber is cedar, and each piece was worked by hand, albeit drawn by computer. The wood gives off a most pleasant aroma, despite the tanker load of varnish that has been applied.

That non vertical lower edge is disturbing, but is intended to emphasis the helical twist.

The stairway is very lively. Like any spiral structure it acts like a spring. The footfalls of the users are translated into motion like some monumental slinky.

Here another carpet artefact abuts the Laing Gallery wall. More red lights behind the curl emphasise this feature at night.

Richard Grainger plied his early house building trade here at Higham Place in 1819. John Dobson built his home here in 1823 and it still exists as part of the Oxford Galleries building, a dance hall and night club for young people.

In 1825 Dobson designed the lying in Hospital on the south side of the street. It was a charitable provision for married women. It catered for the latter stages of pregnancy and childbirth.

For many years this was the BBC's Broadcasting House. It had a two stage addition to the rear, now demolished, catering in turn for a TV studio, and a news room.

Old Broadcasting House

The neo-classical frontage to the Oxford building was a theatrical addition to Dobson's rather plain house. Dobson died in 1865 and this conversion has kept the building in use and popular affection since its conversion to a dance hall.

This style, including the white ceramic faced bricks, was also represented by the Trafalgar, a large pub that stood just on the other side of the hotel Iron Curtain. It was torn down to make way for the motorway bus link.

Between the Oxford and the Laing Gallery is Higham House, a 1960s concrete and glass box lattice monstrosity. This was yet another dreadful insurance company excess.

The Oxford Galleries
John Dobson's House

Today's project included the transplantation of seven mature German trees, one of which is more than 40 years old.

This once noisy thoroughfare, the main east west city route, has been transformed into a people space. Although it is unclear what the people will do with it, the scene has been set for something.

In previous New Year celebrations this area was converted to a temporary ice rink. Today's users seemed to enjoy the quirky carpet jokes, but it was difficult to find anyone who engaged by the surface as a whole.

I agreed with one bemused visitor who remarked; "it's a bit dull for all those broken bottles!"

New Bridge Street from above

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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