Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Byker Wall (NZ270645)

© Copyright Christine Westerback and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Byker Wall, as all who live within a sizeable radius of Newcastle will know, is an unbroken block of 600+ high-rise dwellings situated in the eastern reaches of the city. It is an extraordinary experiment in mass social housing, and has attracted much attention – both good and bad – over the years.

Designed by architect Ralph Erskine in the late 1960s, the mish-mash of a complex (and much of the outlying area) was constructed during the 1970s. The process ran concurrently with the demolition of a huge swathe of Victorian slumland and also factored in the effect of a planned motorway, which, as it happens, was never built.

Almost everything about the scheme was considered revolutionary. It was a pleasant break from the brutalistic concrete monstrosities of previous years with its colour and quirkiness, and was designed to harbour a distinct sense of community among its residents. With this in mind, locals were widely consulted during the design and construction process – even to the extent of, in some cases, the provision of purpose-built accommodation.

© Copyright Martin McG and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Recent refurbishment has greatly helped the general look of the estate, and the ‘Byker Community Trust’ was founded in 2011 which effectively took the Wall and its neighbouring properties out of the control of the city council and into that of the local people. Despite the fact that the Byker Wall elicits a mixed response from befuddled outsiders, it maintains a certain sense of community spirit and collectiveness (and indeed pride) among its occupants.

Furthermore, the Byker Wall, undoubtedly one of the most unusual experiments of its kind in the UK, has won its fair share of awards over the years and is now a listed building. Extraordinarily, the Wall has also been placed on UNESCO’s list of outstanding twentieth century buildings.

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