Friday, July 24, 2015

It never rains but it pours ...

I have a new camera. Like the old one but it fights my bad shake. I have been meaning to catch up with developments around the patch of open space I call 'Battlefield' and when the combination of new camera and sunshine came along this week I rushed out to be greeted by a sudden grey sky and then steady rain. A newly privatised post person wearing a bright red anorak and shorts puffed up alongside me in my temporary rain shelter and asked if I knew where S– House was. It was in the 60s era part of Shieldfield, one of the bits of urban planning bequeathed to the city by T. Dan Smith. I was no help. Everywhere here looks the same.

Except it doesn't. The experimental architecture style ('Pilotis') of building an horizontal tower block has now acquired a sort of retro chic feel; the trees that were so optimistically planted miraculously survived and thrived. This part of Shieldfield actually works from inside. The frontage onto Portland Road is dire however. Some contemporary 'cover the sins' Baboon Blue paint has been applied to the concrete 'feet' of the block, but as with all such 'community' initiative paint jobs, merely serves to warn; you are now entering a high dependency area.

The rain fell, my mood changed. There is after all, something about reflections; and rain is something, whereas grey sky is rarely much more than.

The next estate to this part of Modernist Shieldfield is pure model village arts and crafts. Nice spacious front and back gardens, neat layout and even a Chestersonian public house. Nearby some nice detailing that later notions of civic building shunned; a porthole, a gracious entrance now lost to a couple of plastic looking 80s 'bijou' suburban doors. But no matter; a 'chippy' among some local shops and a few more well grown trees. I noticed how there were still unruly bits; the overgrown, the 'gaps' no one had bothered with and the accidental clumsiness of the unfinished that gives somewhere a sense of a place.

Out in the rain I took a couple of shots of the Smith Era council flats. Here King Charles I played golf when a prisoner of his 'fellow' Scots before being sold to the English for cash. A small green was renovated with success a few years ago. This too has maturing trees and now seats someone might want to sit on. Once described (by that smashing architectural critic, John Grundy) as "the worst view in Newcastle", overlooking the notorious Central Motorway, this revisited green space now conveys a sense of entering a community, rather than simply a tired piece of nothing green grass, waiting to find a purpose.

A new student block is rising up. It bagan in the spring with a series of metal containers – just like the ones featured so often on the news about people hitching a ride to somewhere better than where they were. These are now being covered with a facade of bluey green plastic by men laced together high up in cradles in yellow hard hats. Is that five or six such blocks now? It's hard to keep up. Soon this area will be all students – business students apparently ... How will that change perceptions of Shieldfield? Because it must. And what happens when the Higher Education bubble bursts?

Across the most dismal road in the whole of Newcastle, New Bridge Street's approach to Byker, dismal turns to Stepney Bank. This steep hill inclines rapidly to the Lower Ouseburn  of which, more another time. Here on the edge of one of the most interesting areas in inner city Newcastle, another huge student accommodation project is under way. Like the previous block mentioned on the other side of New Bridge Street, a quarter of a mile away, this project is a complex of 'container' building on a bigger scale on a physically tighter site. Here the containers now slotted into place are being covered by a skin of brick. This scheme is adjacent to a long established city community of early 60s period flats; it is going to be interesting to see how 'town and gown' fare living close together.

One loss in all this has been the Star and Shadow cinema. It closed down earlier in 2015 and the building it occupied is now due to be re-developed. More student dwellings complete with all 'mod cons'. I suppose cinema means less if you have 50 mbs broadband in your 160 GBP per week (inclusive) cubicle.

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