The East Coast Mainline Byker Bridge
before being shrouded (2011)
A new (to me) building has gone up next to the Ouseburn facing the city road bridge. In keeping with trends, this one has a bespoke name – The Toffee Factory. Was there ever one such here? By the lead works? Factory is somehow oddly inappropriate. Not oddly enough? To my eye this building isn't exactly offensive. There are somethings I like, principally the brickwork, which uses a modern (expensive) rusticated brick type that suits the situation. But large flat coloured panels in baby sick green have been applied on the upper parts facing the main road. About as restful as a poke in the eye. Below, on the Ouseburn level, fronting the building is one of those car parks and 'hard garden' areas with stainless steel tubes for traffic bollards and slippery-at-all-times 'marble' steps, finished off with handrails and Scandinavian wood and tubular stainless steel benches arranged with views over the narrow and still stubbornly muddy Ouseburn. It has super safe 'corporate culture' written all over it. The skyline to the west, the city horizon punctuated still by spires, that too reflects the consolidation of corporate architecture; even distant Gateshead College across the Tyne peeping out from behind the soulless Jury's Inn hotel, looks like a business centre; maybe that's what it is.
Yet, by walking a few yards back into the Valley comes a welcome view of dereliction: A fragment of a standing brick wall encasing a piece of old pipe, left behind for some forgotten reason; a sprawling patchwork of cement of different ages forming a hard standing, invaded now by buddleia and ruderals. A bird chirped from the rank stream side vegetation beyond the undeveloped wasteland that was the reason for the over budget Lower Ouseburn barrage and for a moment I though of Reed Buntings; impossible here. The Lower Ouseburn remains then, for while longer, a mixture of wreck and opportunism.
I walked up the steep hill to Byker past the scrap yard gates, a marvel of neglect, past the battlements of the Byker Wall, that, contrariwise, as it deteriorates further, unlike most things, is actually less and less interesting. Glimpsed inside the infamous fish-paste and chocolate camouflage pattern walls. What an dismal place, a failed 'people's project' indeed. Shambolic, it ought to come down as once the Council bravely proposed. It is, of course, Listed and lauded to the skies by distant architectural authorities. I suppose the test of any such building is, would its supporter's live there? Well, would they?