Friday, January 17, 2014

Now… One more time without feeling

By my reckoning (forty years) the current 're-imagining' of the great Newcastle Central Station by John Dobson, one of this country's finest architects, is number three or even four in the series.

Newcastle Central Station 1848 by John Dobson (1787-1865)

Just before Christmas 2013 I took a stroll around the area and saw the television programme style breathless 'makeover' up close, dodging traffic to negotiate temporary pedestrian crossings. I began by taking a closer look at the new Rye Hill Sixth Form College, just a few hundred yards to the west, and worked backwards to the Central Station. The new Sixth Form College building joins one or two others at Rye Hill Campus for having a serious claim to the epithet 'architecture', a rare distinction for new buildings in this city.

Central Station - Rye Hill 29.11.13

But why does Dobson's masterpiece need this treatment? Possibly because of the increasing demands of the motor car? Unlike some other unfortunate sites of architectural heritage, the 20th and 21st century insistence for private vehicle access could always be met here since the lenghty facade and street running past were always of a generous proportion.

No, this is Newcastle City Council's suburbanite curtain twitcher instincts in full flight. Tarting up is their métier. Proof? The title pinned to this exercise in smarming gunk over a sublime sweep of Georgian stone work, is 'Gateway', a title that might have been, probably was, dreamed up by a team of business suited ingenues during Happy Hour at a gastro pub.

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Postscript 18th January 2014

An image of Newcastle Central Station after the works have been completed and buses and people have largely been banished; either that, or the artist was up bright and early one Sunday morning.

The inspiration is pure 'shopping mall'; The very thing that has characterised a city – the experience commented upon by every writer since St Paul – the energy, habitable chaos, diverse and often contradictory spaces, the sheer accumulation that any place that has seen continuous large scale occupation over centuries acquires like a patina, is absent here. This is not a city scape but a retail park fashioned by over-promoted estate agents. Kierkegaard wrote once–

'A passionate, tumultuous age will overthrow everything, pull everything down; but a revolutionary age that is at the same time reflective and passionless leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance.'

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