The Twentieth Century Society

100 Buildings 100 Years

1968: Newcastle Civic Centre

Type: Public building
Architect: George Kenyon
Owners: Newcastle City Council
Location: Haymarket, Newcastle upon Tyne. NE1 8QH

With the city on its knees thanks to post-war de-industrialisation, it took infamous city council leader T Dan Smith, to drag Newcastle kicking and screaming into modernity.

The provincial power base that Dan Smith spearheaded found its home in city architect George Kenyon’s Civic Centre. Fulfilling both administrative and ceremonial roles, this imposing building takes pride of place in the Haymarket area, and is offered a sense of spatial drama common to a city of steep inclines and dramatic jump cuts. The Nordic influence is clear, with walls of Norwegian Otta slate offset by the rich walnut and marble of the interiors, and the aged copper finishings of the exterior. A ring of heraldic sea horses circle the building’s trident-like tower, a nod to the city’s sea-bound heritage, with the impressive ‘River God Tyne’ sculpture by David Wynne cementing the link further. Other notable contributions include the entranceway by Geoffrey Clarke, and an abstract mural by Victor Pasmore in the cashiers’ reception.

Dan Smith was jailed for corruption in 1974, a saga immortalised in the BBC drama series ‘Our Friends in The North’. However, it’s hard to dispute that his plan for Newcastle as a ‘cultural capital’ is still being played out today.

by Richard Smith

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