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Blue Carpet

Ideas Competiton

The first Public Square in Newcastle City Centre for over 100 years.

Information Brief

Substantial improvements are being made to Newcastle City Centre, in particular to John Dobson Street Corridor with new office development, extension of the Laing Gallery and the creation of a new public square. The design of the Square is subject to an ideas competition as catalyst for a new, distinctive, visual public space to draw people to the area and the new southern extension and entrance to the Laing Art Gallery.

The current value of the capital works programme for the square is £300,000.

The Ideas Competition aims to promote wide and applied integration of art and design with architecture; enabled detailed design and consultation stages; and create a significant new public Square in the centre of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne of quality and originality, adjacent to one of the busiest pedestrian thourough fares in the country.

Project background

After years of marginalisation, largely as a result of 1960's design, there have been a number of substantial improvements made to the John Dobson Street Corridor to transform this area into a vibrant part of Newcastle City Centre. Newcastle Building Society have recently built a new headquarters adjacent to the square, incorporating the historic Lying-in Hospital, which with other planned commercial developments are helping to regenerate the area.

Tyne & Wear Museums has successfully secured £1 million, primarily from the The European Regional Development Fund, for a southern extension to the Laing Art Gallery which will be completed later this year. The extension provides a new entrance, additional gallery space and new lecture/function space. Succesive phases which seek to refurbish the existing Gallery are being planned.

The City of Newcastle upon Tyne secured £750,000 to remove a section of the John Dobson Street Pedestrian Deck; carry out associated environmental improvements to John Dobson Street and Princess Square; and create a new public square. The first two elements of the scheme are now complete.

Creation of a New Public Square: Ideas Competition

A total of £300,000 remains to create a new Public Square on New Bridge Street between the Laing Art Gallery and the Portland Towers development. An outline bid for further funding has been submitted for arts lottery funds.

The initial impetus for the proposed Square came from a joint public/private sector forum of organisations with a presence and/or interest in the area. In order to achieve the quality worthy of the first public square in Newcastle City Centre for over 100 years, it has been agreed that the design of the Square should be subject to an Ideas Competition. Funding has been secured for the competition by The Newcastle Initiative from private sector contributions.

Interest in the project is invited from artists with experience of public art commission, site specific and integrated design. From initial application/registration of interest, three artists will be shortlisted, offered a design fee plus expenses and invited to make site visits and first stage proposals. From the shortlist of three artists, the winning artist will receive an award of £1000 and the opportunity to develop proposals with the City Council's Design Team on the final scheme.

Design Brief


The design proposals are to be for the whole of the area shown on plan, (hatched):

  • east to west: from the Forte Posthouse Hotel across to John Dobson Street.
  • north to south: from the south wall of the Laing Gallery to the boundary of the Portland Towers development.

The principle objective is to create a distinctive, public open space which is:

attractive and vibrant - enjoyable and memorable - useful - of an exceptionally high design standard - and in keeping with the surrounding buildings.

It is intended to draw the public to the Square from:

  • the Monument/Northumberland Street and Pilgrim Street areas;
  • John Dobson Street;
  • and to assist pedestrian flow from the east side of the City across the Square.

The Square could form a framework for outside activities associated with the Laing Art Gallery and its exhibitions and other aspects of potential City Centre public space/street life.

Design Guidelines

Proposals must relate excitingly, practically and respectfully to the Listed Buildings to the north and south of the Square, eg the Laing Art Gallery and the former Lying-in Hospital and accommodate the access requirements of these buildings. The proposals must:

  • relate to pedestrian crossing points on John Dobson Street and provide for convenient pedestrian movement through the area.
  • provide/maintain accessibility for all people using the area, including disabled people, elders and parents with children.
  • reflect the association with the line of the Town Wall and site of Carliol Tower which lie through and immediately adjacent to the Square.

The site is currently a public highway of standard carriageway construction which has been closed at the junction of New Bridge Street and John Dobson Street. It is proposed that the area shown on plan, (hatched), will remain as highway and will be the subject of a Traffic Regulation Order to restrict traffic from using the area.

Design proposals should allow for access from the southern end of Higham Place to Oxford Street and across the whole area for emergency vehicles.

The City of Newcastle is aware of a number of Statutory Undertakers' services located below the carriageway construction. Any significant alteration in level may result in the need to protect or divert services.

When the City Council became the Highway Authority in 1986, it was agreed to standardise on the traditional materials and street furniture to be used within the City Centre. While it is not intended to limit the Ideas Competition to specific materials and street furniture, applicants would benefit from familiarising themselves with the palette of materials already used in the City Centre. Detailed proposals should include a durability and maintenance audit and acknowledge low maintenance factors for the upkeep of completed works.

Application: Timetable

STAGE 1: July to September 1996

The Information Brief is designed to introduce the project and invite a registration of interest from artists with experience of public art commission, site specific and integrated design.

First stage application is by letter and support information eg a curiculum vitae, slides - 20 max, and photographs of previous work.

Please enclose a stamped addressed envelope for the return of this information.

The City Council will not be held liable for the loss of any material provided by applicants.

Closing date for receipt of applications: 20 September 1996.

Send applications to:

Shaffique Visram


Development Department - Planning Division

Civic Centre

Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8PH

A Selection Panel will consider all applications and shortlist three artists by the 4 October 1996.

Three artists will be offered a design fee of £500 plus reasonable expenses for travel and accommodation, invited to undertake site visits, meet the Design Team and produce first stage outline designs.

STAGE 2: October 1996

Shortlisted artists will be invited to meet members of the Selection Panel, present initial ideas and first stage design proposals in the week ending 1st November 1996.

The winning artist will receive an award of £1000. In addition, the artist will be offered a contract to work with the City Council in collaboration with their Design Team between November 1996 and February 1997. The contract will be on an agreed time and expenses basis (hourly rates to be submitted as part of the Stage 1 application) and will include for example the development of Client's Brief for the Design Team and attendance at Design Team progress meetings.

STAGE 3: November 1996 - December 1996 - January 1997

  • Artist and Design Team meetings.
  • Detailed design stage.

STAGE 4: January/February 1997

  • Receipt of detailed design proposals : by Friday 31 January 1997.
  • Exhibition of proposals and Artist's work: Laing Art Gallery: 3-14 February 1997.
  • Submission of proposals for planning consent.


  • March/April 1997: Tender and contract procedures.
  • May-October 1997: Contract period.
  • December 1997: Contract financially complete.

History of the Site

The Laing Art Gallery is built on land which originally lay immediately outside the north-eastern corner of the medieval defences of Newcastle which consisted of a stone Town Wall and ditch. Construction of the defences began in the second half of the thirteenth century but by the seventeenth century, the defences had become neglected. The onset of the Civil War made their repair a matter of urgent necessity and work was carried out between 1638 and 1644, when Newcastle was besieged by the Scottish Army. The use of the Carliol Tower during the siege is suggested by the discovery in 1823 of a cannon ball lodged two and a half feet deep in the wall. From the seventeenth century, the Carliol Tower was the meeting place of the Weavers' Company.

In 1878, this western part of the site, including the Carliol tower and the vacant land, which belonged to the Corporation of Newcastle, were acquired for the purposes of building a public library. The Tower was demolished in 1880 and the new Free Library was opened in September 1882.

The old Library building was demolished in 1968 to make way for the new John Dobson Street.(Tyne & Wear Museums)

In 1760 a Lying-In Hospital was established for poor, married, pregnant women in Rosemary Lane. A new Hospital (1826, Grade 11) on the south side of New Bridge Street was designed by John Dobson:

The elevations, details and specifications of the several works of the new hospital were all gratuitously supplied by Mr. Dobson, architect. It is a remarkably chaste, plain and substantial stone building in the style of English architecture that prevailed in about the end of the reign of Henry VIII.

(Source: E.Mackenzie; History of Newcastle, 1827)

The Laing Art Gallery was the gift of Alexander Laing to the City of Newcastle and was opened on the 13 October 1904, architects Cackett and Burns Dick. It is a Grade 11 listed building of the free Baroque style with Art Nouveau elements; cherubs which carry scrolls ARS LONGA and VITA BREVIS; the arms of Newcastle; an art-nouveau frieze with high relief female figures; and interior Frosterley marble floors.

'A Guide to the Public Monuments and Sculpture of Tyne & Wear' was published in 1996. Other than early works of funereal art, the erection of these monuments was, perhaps, the first expression of public art in the modern period. They are important not only as pieces of art or as memorials to significant people or events, but also as indicators of social trends and community feelings. They have a meaning far beyond their physical presence.

The City of Newcastle upon Tyne is the administrative, commercial and cultural capital of the North East of England. The City has undergone a significant change in its economic base over the past twenty years. There has been a major decline in the traditional industries of coal, steel and ship-building, but new manufacturing industry is emerging and the service sector has become increasingly important. There are positive signs of regeneration in the City and the spirit of self-help is very evident. Strong partnerships between the private and public sectors with the involvement of the local community are seen as Newcastle's greatest asset for economic development.

The Ideas Competition is a joint partnership of The City of Newcastle upon Tyne and The Newcastle Initiative in association with Newcastle Building Society, Northern Electric, Storey Sons & Parker, Forte Posthouse Hotel, Northern Arts and Tyne & Wear Museums, (the Laing Art Gallery).

The brief also includes a map and photographs of the area for the Square and photographs of architectural details.