How would you change Newcastle? Would you introduce light rail to the CBD? Would you put soft drinks in all the water fountains?
With the current proposal to cut the train line at Wickham as a catalyst, the Masters of Architecture students at the University of Newcastle are set to tackle a new project this semester re-designing the CBD.
With no restrictions, the scope is infinite and allows the budding architects to get as creative as they like.
1233’s Gemma Wolk spoke to senior lecturers Yannis Zavoleas and Michael Chapman about the brief, their thoughts on Newcastle city and the potential of the project.
“I remember the moment I arrived [in Newcastle]. I was trying to find the centre and I couldn’t because I would expect the terminal would be somehow the centre or a point of reference, whereas it is not,” Yannis recalled.
“Part of it is the fact that I couldn’t really see any high buildings to somehow define the centre, plus there wasn’t any place for dense activity an exchange happening close to the train station as it happens in most cities around the world.
“There are points to go, but there is a lack of a clear centre that defines the city – the place to go when you want to feel the vibration of the city. I think a city like Newcastle should somehow have a clear centre that actually functions as a node that various areas around the centre could be connected so it’s more of a network that has to refer somehow to the central area. I think the area we’re working on can play that role.
“The question is not how to bring a European city into Newcastle but it may be that we bring some qualities of European cities to Newcastle, while maintaing the character of the city and even enriching it.”
Now students are in the early stages of the project, Yannis is interested to see their ideas progress.
“I think it is a fascinating experience for me as well because from this project and from the outcome of this project, I think we will all learn about this place. Even those who think they know about Newcastle will always find something new to learn,” he said.
A local architect and Newcastle resident, Michael has seen many of the changes to happen to the city and is excited to give the students the opportunity design for the future.
“I think that so much of the argument about the centre of Newcastle has been about the train line and the train line as a barrier to the development and connecting the CBD with the harbour. I’ve been in Newcastle long enough to see extremely dramatic transformations to the urban landscape in that last ten, fifteen years that have really erased some of the character of particularly the waterfront,” he explained.
“The whole argument about the train line being a barrier to the city I think, for me as an architect, when I walk through that area I can see a large number of buildings, many built fairly recently that are more of a barrier of connectivity with the harbour than the train line has ever been.
“So part of it is to really get the students thinking about the importance of buildings not as objects in a landscape but as elements which frame urban experiences and urban connectivity and spaces and are actually part of a much bigger social and cultural system than just an object sitting in a landscape so I think the importance of this project is that it allows our students to think about architecture as part of everyday life.”
Yannis is encouraging the students to use their own analysis of the site to drive the design process.
“Our first challenge is to bring to the studio the experience of the students from the city, and for them to start thinking about how they want their city to become. They are also the clients in a sense because they’re designing for themselves as well as for the other people of Newcastle, so they can personally be involved in this project,” Yannis said.
The project’s hypothetical nature will allow the students to challenge the existing debate and extend their own thinking, focusing on their own visions for the city.
“When me and Yannis introduced the project, it was very much an opportunity for them to take part in the future design of their city. Even if it’s in a hypothetical context, it’s giving them a voice in this very complex argument,” Michael explained.
“The more time you spend teaching students, you realise the value of the way students think and the power of their ideas and the enthusiasm and the qualities that they have to really advance our cities, which is probably where projects like this can start to get some momentum just by allowing that energy to find a vice in a forum.”
Masters of Architecture students Aariel Pazar, Nick Flatman and Basil Bullock shared their thoughts on tackling the project.
“I think it’s good having a lot of different perspectives, especially from students, considering there’s a lot of talk about the campus moving into the city centre and that’s already going to have a big impact on how people use the city and just general living, so it’s good to have that diversity of ideas rather than just a few from major companies and things like that,” Aariel said.
“The best thing about this project is it’s still in academia, which means that there’s no sort of constraints at the moment so it allows us to explore outside of the regulatory boundaries. We can explore different things and while these may not be relevant now they may be relevant later or they highlight certain things that may otherwise have gone unnoticed,” Nick explained.
“It’s important to have young students looking at this issue in Newcastle because we are the future of this city. If you look at the projected demographics, Newcastle’s student base is the growing demographic and in the next 100 years it’s going to grow huge amounts. We are the people living here so it’s great to explore the idea of what this city could be and have a voice in the community saying ‘this is what this city could be’,” Basil expressed.
Students’ finished work will be on display in Newcastle city later in the year.