Newcastle, parts of it, have seen an extraordinary wave of building development for student housing. The scale would be remarkable in a city twice as large. The speed of this construction – in a little over two years vast concentrations of 'apartment style living' have been erected like Meccano towers around the city. The traditional shuttering that screens sites are now no longer brown plywood not even painted over and stuck up with warning signs; these carry advertisements complete with photographs of lavish interiors more frequently in the past associated with holiday brochures or budget hotel web pages. No more 'student digs' (though one developer, a Mayfair registered property and investment company, has artfully called its joint venture with 'Uni's', the successor bodies to the old, academic-style university, DIGS).
It is, of course, a bubble. Like the financial bubbles of the past (some fuelled by frenzied property speculation) it will burst. Overnight.
The reason for the astonishing expansion of student accommodation is China. Chinese value enterprise and personal development, as heirs to one of the great cultures of the world. The arrival of large numbers of young Chinese in the United Kingdom has helped to create the financial basis for the expansion of higher education, the re-building (in some cases 'building') of campuses, such as been happening in Newcastle's two 'Unis' to judge by the smear of Corporate street furniture and spacial window dressing in which they have been indulging themselves.
China is exporting money and students in quantity. Soon I believe, this traffic will reverse; China, newly equipped and skilled, is already embarking upon its own university building programme. It will in due course offer courses to foreign students in turn. Cheaper. And there are other, local, murmurings of disquiet. (1) (2 £)
What then of the thousands of bespoke 'apartments', single rooms and shared spaces of BroadBand City®? Who cares? Take the money and run like last time.
But the legacy will remain.
Bubble wrap (Off site link)
As an opportunity to create distinctive buildings and re-shape older, less favoured areas of this de-industrialised city, there was great scope; the influx of people and spending represented by new residential development together with sound and well understood impacts – a feel for place, for example – has been overtaken by a level of aggressive mercantile greed minus a belief in anything other than the market. The concept of 'Flat-pack' design has ignored even rampant Victorian opportunism's nod to 'higher powers' exemplified in those solid regional civic buildings that survived the 20th century's wrecking ball. In looking at these newer buildings one is looking at a machine for making money and nothing more.