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RIBA Regional Awards 2014: North East

RIBA Regional Awards 2014: North East

Gordon Murray, Newcastle: As a ‘foreigner’ I can draw obvious parallels between Tyne and Wear and the Clyde – the massive post industrial regeneration now gathering pace as we endeavour to move out of recession, the creative re-use of built heritage; and differences – topography, light and language. 

Yet I revel in Northumbria’s comfortable atmosphere, from Durham to Berwick. One of the finest British post-war civic buildings is Newcastle Civic Centre by city architect George Kenyon. Built in 1967 it is distinctly Scandinavian in its origins. However, its import lies in its merging of architecture and sculpture. The magnificent circle of bronze, man-sized, sea-horse heads that adorn the tower encapsulate a serendipity between the craft traditions of the area’s shipbuilding and heavy engineering, and the world-renowned sculpture department at Newcastle College of Art where the heads were cast. 

In this they are forbears of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North. So it is no surprise that the area’s single Stirling Prize winner is a piece of engineering – Wilkinson Eyre’s Millennium Bridge – which itself continues the intertwining of art and engineering. Yet awards say more about the preoccupations of the jury than about the prevailing qualities of the region’s built environment. 

It would be fatuous to draw any conclusions as to the direction of travel of architecture in RIBA North East from this year’s shortlist. If its Stirling Prize winner is about sculpture then these schemes are mostly jewellery – exquisitely crafted small pieces. With two Russell Group universities and two leading schools of architecture, a strong contemporary artistic scene  – from the College of Art to the Baltic (itself an RIBA Award winner ) the region has a strong base of excellence, creative endeavour and innovation which could be better harnessed by more enlightened clients – to the benefit of the built environment with prosperity as its legacy. 

Gordon Murray is a partner in Ryder and professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Strathclyde


Special Awards

Architect of the Year: Napper Architects
Client of the Year: Durham County Council & 
Seaham Harbour Marina Community Interest Company (for Seaham North Dock)
Building of the Year: Seaham North Dock
Conservation: Roomzzz - Friar House Apartment Hotel
Emerging Architect: Mawson Kerr Architects
Sustainability: Maggie’s Newcastle
Small Project: Treetops