Taxis give way to lattés at Newcastle station with Ryder’s revamped Portico
Gloomy grandeur has marked out the porte cochère of Newcastle Central Station since day one, which, incidentally, was a decade after the rest of the station. That was designed by Newcastle’s own John Dobson. There wasn’t the money for his original long design but in 1863 Thomas Prosser shortened and simplified it to what locals affectionately call the Portico. It is an integral and visible part of the city, landing well above the River Tyne and so part of the city centre.
But now that gloominess has been banished by another Newcastle-grown architect, Ryder. The porte cochère had long been limited by its congested roadway of taxis and passenger drop-offs, filling the space with fumes. In close collaboration with Ryder, the city has reworked its roadways and surfaces to link better with the urban realm. The move that freed the Portico was shifting the taxi rank to the east end of the station. Now there is space for arrivals to breathe and take stock of their destination. There is a romantic idea that they might look up the Georgian Grainger Street to the city centre’s Grey’s Monument, but they are more likely to end up face to face with the more prosaic Greggs. The Portico’s grade 1 listed neo-classical symmetry is such that until this unit changes hands all the architects can do is draw attention to other, more uplifting, views from the entrance.
Inside it is a different matter. Now the roadway through it has been closed, the Portico architecture appears to rule. Behind the outsize parapet and colossal 10m high arches, simple elegant glazing encloses the space, with orthogonally aligned copper-lapped boxes set down on the stone floor.
But this project was not originally about the architecture, traffic management or the city. ‘It was driven by a hard-nosed business case,’ says project director Lee Taylor. The client, state-owned franschisee East Coast, was funded by Network Rail which, following a new franchise, is now back running the station. Both wanted to increase its retail space; work on the Portico and concourse has boosted it by 985m2. Those four metal boxes are for letting to cafés and shops, with smaller armatures for ticket machines and digital billboards. It is all rather smart.
Inside the main station, the changes are more subtle, unless you are very familiar with the station. The ticket office, no longer the centre of its life, has been relocated alongside platform 12. Its place has been taken by a more tightly planned rectangle of shops. They feel standard station issue and the copper boxes above for lift gear, among other things, put the show in the wrong place. However, it allows the eye to follow the sweeping curve of the arched roof on and out of the station to the city’s castle keep. And it gives more space for the gates, which can get congested when more than one large train arrives to disgorge its passengers.
Back in the Portico, the vertical glass fins and X-shaped steel fixings and bolts are disciplined in their setting out but cannot be as unobtrusive as they might like: approach at the wrong angle and they snatch the transparency from you. They are also rather space hungry. The new plan of aligned boxes and glass fins set up a perimeter exclusion zone, which is awkwardly wide and a little too restrictive to comfortably accommodate anything but the most ordered journeys. The soffit is a disappointingly plasticky-looking polyester powder coated metal tray. But it hides a layer of offices, inserted years ago behind the Portico facade, a fair bit of original and glass-supporting steelwork – and seamlessly turns old ineffective lightwells into vents.
Making more logical and efficient use of the huge station is an ongoing project. Feasibility studies are looking at where best to put the taxi rank, and more exciting is the investigation into how to make the station a route south over the tracks to the developing Stephenson Quarter. This phase is one in a lineage of many changes and restores dignity and power to the station – as well as some extra pennies to keep the railway moving.
Total contract cost: £6.25m
GIFA cost per m2: £2,500
Area in m2: 2500m2
Client: Network Rail
Contractor: Galliford Try Construction (UK)
Structural glazing: North Eastern Glass
Metal cladding and soffit panels: Chemplas
Stone repairs and flooring: Classic Masonry
Structural steel: Philadelphia Structures