I struggle to keep up, down a tight corridor decked out with Pirelli rubber and walnut paneling, at the end of the corridor we both enter a small, partially disguised elevator. The floor is fitted with a piece of tired crushed velvet, still proudly depicting the civic emblem. The interior walls are lined with an intricately woven solid steel lattice and remind me of a crooner’s ribbon microphone. It smells like warm oil and old static.
Moving beyond post-war utopian ideals of “a city for the people”, we see the city’s receing backbone; Newcastle Civic Centre. Originally conceived as a symbol of prosperity, built to defend local identity through collaborative design and principle, the building has divided opinion since its Royal opening in 1967. Viewed as progressive, iconic, and engaging to some, and to others as an unjustified expense or selfish punt into the architecture of propaganda.
Autonomous Grace is an exhibition of work that concerns the social and psychological responses to the changing fabric of a city. Focussing on the civic centre’s protected, yet discretely changing interior, it examines the effect that architectural design has on our mood and behaviour, through elements such as light, space and materials.
As our cities yield to both the predictability and uncertainty associated with privately owned and conditioned public spaces, the work presents the viewer with an evolving set of issues to consider in regards to purpose and preservation. It also raises questions about our public lives and the spaces we want to inhabit.
Autonomous Grace is part of an on-going body of work relating to exploration of the built environment. It has been created in response to several months spent in and around Newcastle Civic Centre.
James Newrick is a photographer/ filmmaker based in Newcastle upon Tyne.