Saturday, July 6, 2013

Portland Road Revisited

This is turning out to be the kind of summer we all felt we would never see again. It may only last a week but while it lasts it's welcome.

Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus

Much has happened around the piece of open space I call 'Battlefield' this past year. Another vast new Hall of Residence has reached the point where we can see it almost in it's finished form. Whatever my reservations (and I have some) these have altered the perception of this part of Portland Road.

A photographic album of a stroll in the sunshine (external link) –

Builders Metnor were specialists in warehouse construction; they were the proposed builders for seven large blocks to be constructed over the site of the former paint factory and their public relations advisers held a public preview of the plans for local residents, attended by a befuddled Anton in the early stages of influenza. I did not appreciate having 'Battlefield' open space described to me by a P.R. man present as "threatening". Our meeting did not get off to a happy start. In fairness, the two completed blocks are not as bad as I once feared. True, they may not look quite so trendy after a few years wear and tear, but overall I think they have added rather than detracted from what was here previously.

Something I (and many more before me) have noted is the way a new building articulates the other, pre-existing buildings around it. This effect can sometimes be profound. On one hand one has the design of the new building and that may or may not be successful; yet, on the other, there is also the visual impact the building has upon it's neighbours. The most striking example I have ever seen of this effect is Daniel Libeskind's extension to the Royal Toronto Museum, Toronto. A fairly lacklustre street was transformed by Libeskind's inspired intervention. A case of two plus two makes five if ever I saw one.

As I strolled up the street past the pioneering and very successful Biscuit Factory Arts building, I came across a mural being painted on newly erected panels across the front of an old abandoned premises expressly for the purpose. I met the artist also, taking a break from his efforts in the shelter of a wall. This encounter will be a separate post to follow. I hope it demonstrates the effectiveness of engaging with the arts in stimulating regeneration, a fact sadly lost on many in positions of influence if not direct power.

Biscuit Factory Arts

Newcastle is a city under going transformation. Several large bilding projects are underway. (Tell that to motorists caught up around the Central Station!) In Shieldfield another site is being developed where a gravel company previously had works over looking the Byker road and rail bridges. The site always looked ripe for re-development.

Work on the paint factory site (which is where I came in) seems permanently to have stalled. Difficulties with the sites historic pollution by heavy metals and the collapse of the overseas student bubble, seems to have put paid to the latest of three schemes to develop this site since I took note. Battlefield itself looks better than ever.

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