Honouring the written word in style

May 31, 2018

North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson selects two North East buildings that he describes as ‘inspirational’ 

The advantage of having more mileage on my body-clock than many is that I can compare the Newcastle city centre of old with what it is today. 

Take the Central Library. Before the ghastly central motorway and the John Dobson Street ‘slash’ to the east of Northumberland Street, the Central Library stood cheek by jowl with the Laing Art Gallery. In those early days a library was just that – a place to borrow books from or to sit, read and self-educate.  

The merest noise of turning a page could cause eyebrows to be raised. Silence was the order of the day. Indeed, such was the legend of library silence that many thrillers have been written with ‘library silence’, even a Dr. Who. 

The role of the library has changed. In Newcastle there is still a Central Library but in the form of a glorious building, and in South Shields there is a library but with clever branding as The Word, the National Centre for the Written Word. Its circular shape is thought by some to be reminiscent of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. 

In both The Word and the new Central Library, the options for visitors are considerable with only one thing missing – silence. 

The Word is South Tyneside Council’s new state-of-the-art cultural venue, a key part of the regeneration of the town centre. Though a library with 70,000 books, it makes a far greater contribution to the town through its range of educational attractions for all ages. 

Designed by FaulknerBrowns, The Word received the esteemed title of Building of the Year at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) North East Awards 2017, before going on to receive a National RIBA Award later in the year, securing its status as one of the UK’s best new buildings. 

Steve McIntyre, partner at FaulknerBrowns who led the project, says The Word “is a library for the 21st century, celebrating the dynamic relationship between people, books, traditional media and interactive technologies, in a truly inspiring environment”. 

The RIBA judging panel had the following to say about the scheme: “The attention to detail is superb and the judges were delighted to see this in a building of this scale – every element was considered and designed, from the bespoke bookcases that populated the atrium wall to the joints in the shuttering of the in-situ concrete. 

“The Word is a happy, uplifting place and is the embodiment of inclusion for all ages – it caters for all with no compromises. 

“Not only is The Word an outstanding, public-sector project culturally, socially and architecturally, but it establishes an eminently satisfactory relationship with the Grade I listed Old Town Hall to the north-east, the listed St Hilda’s Church to the south-east and the newly paved Market Square between the two. 

“Overall, this is an outstanding work both architecturally and in urban design terms.” 

Steve adds: “The vision of the client, South Tyneside Council, combined with the dedication and ingenuity of the project team, have combined to deliver a cultural asset of regional and national significance. We are extremely proud of what has already been 

achieved at The Word and look forward to seeing the positive effect it will continue to have on the region.” 

The Word brings a range of experiences for every age. At ground floor there is exhibition space, a spacious shop, cafe, gaming zone and adult fiction. Level one features the Charles Dickens and Catherine Cookson rooms plus The Lens, Local & Family history and Learn & Discover IT and level two features include Children’s under five, five-nine and over nines plus OpenZone, Media Studio, FabLab and StoryWorld.  

The Word is what it claims to be – a celebration of the written word in all its forms through a rolling programme of events, exhibitions and workshops. It’s such a change from the concept of a library it is even on Trip Advisor.  

Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, says: “The Word is an iconic building and a superb asset for the Borough. Almost 600,000 visitors and 19 prestigious awards are testament to the world-class attraction it has become.  

 “The opening of The Word heralded a new lease of life for South Shields triggering private sector confidence and investment. The whole of the town centre will be transformed over the next ten-to-15 years as part of our 365 regeneration master plan.” 

 The Newcastle City Library, opened in 2009, is an inspirational building, a structure that delivers a high-rise building of international stature. 

The brief for Ryder Architecture was to provide a building to ‘delight and inspire’ and to create a model for twenty first century library facilities.

Since its opening, the library has been widely acclaimed by the public, staff and stakeholders. It is a civic landmark and a meeting place. It accommodates a range of supporting facilities, a cafe, crèche and public meeting and exhibition spaces. It is fully accessible, inclusive and close to public transport. It is environmentally responsible, accessible, inclusive and fun – a ‘living room for the city’. 

Lee Taylor, architectural director at Ryder, explains the project: “The six storey building has a four storey entrance atrium. It is highly transparent, encouraging people to visit and enjoy. An observation deck gives visitors new views across the city.  

“Clear way-finding uses vibrant colour coding for different areas. The entire glazed east elevation features artwork, inspired by interviews with over 1000 residents. New hard landscaping has transformed the previously drab public realm into attractive terraces.

“Construction materials represent the civic stature of the building, its immediate physical and cultural context and its contemporary nature.

“The design proposals, for both the exterior and the interior, including furniture and stock arrangement, were developed through extensive public, user and staff consultation.” 

Tony Durcan, assistant director of Transformation, Newcastle City Council, adds: “We wanted the City Library to be a destination venue, a high quality, inspirational building that people would enjoy and respect. Its success suggests we achieved that.”  

 The features of the library over its six storeys include a cafe, fiction and world languages, children and young people, citizens’ advice, computer suite, meeting rooms, local studies and family history, the Bewick Hall and the Newcastle Collection and some Council services. Little wonder a queue of over 50 persons waited for the library to open the day I visited. 

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Viewpoint: Geoff Hunton