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Architectural delights


Architectural delights

We take a look at some of the surprising architecture that you’ll find on a tour of the Newcastle University campus.

Newcastle has a reputation as one of England’s distinguished ‘red brick’ universities. But, its architecture spans from the late 18th century and all across the 19th century.

From the Gothic revival of the 19th century. The welfare state modernism of the 1960s and 1970s. To the contemporary design of the recently finished Urban Sciences Building.

Work began on the Armstrong Building in 1886. This centrepiece is the oldest building on the current Newcastle University campus. The Institution has grown in size and complexity.

Far beyond the expectations of the original architects. Even so, refurbishment of the oldest buildings has provided the latest spaces for today’s researchers and students.

Armstrong Building

The Armstrong Building was built in four phases between 1886 and 1910. It includes King’s Hall. Familiar to our graduates as the centre of our congregation ceremonies. Over the past five years, a variety of historic spaces have undergone refurbishment.

Subject to many piecemeal alterations over the decades since it was last refurbished in the 1960s. We made some amazing discoveries of historic fabric that had become hidden behind later interventions.

These included decorative plaster ceilings and timber vaults. As well as the original paint scheme for King’s Hall, which would look gaudy to contemporary eyes.

Other late additions were stripped out to restore some of the key rooms. Including a music practice room. In what was originally the Ladies’ Common Room with a glazed lantern. Plus, a green screen media suite under the vault of what was built as vaulted art studios.

The repairs have made clear the previous historical layers of building alterations. It has added a new contemporary layer to work by Design Office. The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape’s in-house design research consultancy.

Among the most dramatic rooms of the Armstrong Building is the Armstrong Boardroom. This boardroom is on the top floor. It is a circular room with a decorative plaster ceiling.

The room has amazing views over the city. The archaeological resources room has new wooden panelling. Which complement the remarkable Victorian timber ceiling. The 1960s staircase has painted slats that give it the appearance of a piece of abstract art.

During the refurbishment, obstructions were also removed. You can now see all the way up from the marble floor of the building’s main entrance. To a stained-glass lantern three storeys up.

Armstrong Quadrangle

The refurbishment of the Armstrong Building has turned what was a service yard into the Armstrong Quadrangle. With a new brick-vaulted entrance and paved garden.

A focal point of this Quadrangle is a statue of civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He accepted an honorary doctorate at the University in 1967.

This is one of many interesting stories the building has to tell. Another includes its service as an impromptu military hospital during the First World War. Plus, many scientific and artistic innovations.

Armstrong quad


Other historic University buildings around the Old Quadrangle have undergone refurbishment.

The famous Arches used to be the entrance to the campus from the city. But now it's situated at the campus centre and features in many promotional images for the University.

The King Edward VII Building and Hatton Gallery have also undergone refurbishment. They display finely carved stone details and some intricate stained glass.


Philip Robinson Library

In the 1960s, the Universities Grants Commission funded an expansion of science at various UK universities. The legacy of this is present in the 1960s and 1970s modernist buildings. If you like ’60s and ‘70s modernism, which is experiencing a revival, then you'll find it here.

Merz Court, containing a variety of lab spaces is a fine example and was opened by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was famous for his ‘white heat of technology’ speech which defined 1960s modernisation.

Modern art inspired the design of the main façade addressing Claremont Quadrangle. Like the relief sculptures of Ben Nicholson, windows are fixed flush to the surface of the brickwork to make a flat plane.

By contrast, then, deep cuts in the flat surface recede into shadow to emphasise relief. The columns then appear behind windows or are brought to the surface.

Another gem from this era is the Philip Robinson Library. Built from a handmade red-brown brick in the 1970s, the building is now the main University library.

It has long slit windows set diagonally to filter the light for reading. This also makes the walls feel castle-like. This celebrates the weight of knowledge contained within.

Old Library

Among the various remarkable spaces on the University campus is the Old Library Building. This building has been adapted into a Language Resource Centre.

After the current University library was constructed on another site and opened in 1982. Diamond patterns made from burnt bricks echo the Tudor architecture of the British Isles.

The reading room reflects the historic timber-lined libraries of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. This includes plasterwork with echoes of the ‘moderne’ cinemas fashionable in the 1920s and ‘30s.

The institution's architecture has continued to move with the times. The extension to the Old Library Building is an example of one of the many post-war buildings on campus.

Old library

Urban Sciences Building

The University’s architecture continues to evolve, including a recent contribution in the Urban Sciences Building.

Inside, a stair wraps around a triangular atrium to provide a route through the building. Which connects together student social spaces, teaching spaces, offices and labs.

It provides the latest in contemporary, sustainable design. It also incorporates various sensors and smart technologies. They track and adapt the building’s environmental performance.

Newcastle University is an excellent place to study architecture. It is also a fascinating place for those with an eye for their surroundings.

Urban sciences building