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Sunday, 28 February 2016

From Cambridge to Newcastle

After three years at Cambridge, I had to decide where to continue my studies in order to pass the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)  final examination to qualify as an architect. My tutor, Alex Hardy, had recommended the Durham University School of Architecture based in Newcastle upon Tyne (the two universities became separate entities in 1963). I had attended an interview earlier that year and was accepted to join the fourth year in Newcastle.

In the first few weeks I experienced a big change in my lifestyle. I had to live in digs in South Gosforth, a bus ride away from the university, and share a bed-sit with another chap who wasn't a student. The landlady was old and rather frail and the meals, though hot, were not particularly appetising. I was very impressed with the university itself: King's College and the central courtyard area consisted of buildings dating from the 19th century.

{I am proud to say that some twenty-odd years later I was to see my own son study at Newcastle University. To have had the opportunity to study at two universities and then have my two children attend each of them, is indeed fortunate}

The centre of Newcastle in 1957 was lively: plenty of pubs between the university precinct and the quayside. All the main streets had overhead electric power cables which had once been used to run trams but had been replaced by trolley buses. The jewels in the architectural crown were the classical streets created by architect John Dobson and builder Richard Grainger including Grey Street, Grainger Street, Market Street and Collingwood Street. This was 19th century town planning at its best, particularly the gentle sweep of Grey Street with the façade of the Theatre Royal.

The accommodation for fourth year architecture studies was a temporary block to the rear of the main buildings, known as 'the huts': pre-cast concrete-framed units similar to temporary classrooms. The lack of insulation meant that as soon as the heating was turned off, they rapidly became very cold in winter. It was therefore very difficult to work late in such conditions. However the atmosphere among the students was relaxed and friendly. Of course most of them had studied together for three years already. There were only two other newcomers: Ken Appleby who was returning to Newcastle after his National Service and Ralph Baldwin who had studied part-time and was now studying full-time in order to qualify.

The winter of 1957 soon progressed into the spring and summer of 1958 so it was possible to work in the studio longer into the evenings and the temptation grew to find some open air and exercise in the day. Ralph also had some rowing experience so we went out in a pair and towards the end of the summer even entered into the Durham University regatta on the River Wear. This was my only diversion and thankfully didn't encroach on my work.

My main design project at the end of the summer term was a Civic Centre for Carlisle. I remember the final weeks before the scheme had to be submitted - we were working well into the night in the hut and I decided not to shave until it was finished. It is the only time in my life that I have grown 'designer stubble'. We were kept awake every night with two long-playing records supplied by one of the students and they are firmly embedded in my memory. One was Frank Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers and the other was one by Ella Fitzgerald. My appreciation of popular music was influenced by these two performers even though they got on my nerves that final week!

On the Saturday morning, after submitting the scheme, I headed straight for the barber's and had a wet shave and haircut before going to the student's union for a well-earned hot meal.

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