Newcastle, the Vertical City

Newcastle upon Tyne, formerly a powerhouse of the industrial revolution and a byword for coal, is built on the bank of the River Tyne which can slope down fairly steeply. The city is jam-packed with the remnants of a brutalist urban dream from the 1960s that was aborted in a heroic act to save the many historic buildings it endangered. As a consequence, and in an effort to adapt to the slope and bridge the river, Newcastle bristles with bridges, underpasses, flyovers, walkways and tunnels that turn it into a vertical city.

The historic centre is compact and easy to explore on foot but its 3D nature makes it very confusing and messes with the brain. Quickly you lose all sense of direction. Sometimes, after being led astray and then by chance turning into a street you know, you don’t feel that you have discovered a new route but that you have entered a kind of time warp that threw you back to before you got lost. There are many buildings that have two or more entrances on different floors, all connecting at street level—it’s obvious that in Newcastle the word ‘street level’ has lost its meaning.

Architecturally and aesthetically speaking, the city is a jumbled mess where nothing fits together, but don't worry, it's a most exhilarating jumbled mess. Getting lost in Newcastle is hugely entertaining where at every turn you see unexpected combinations and connections. It’s like watching a kind of 3D kaleidoscope that utilizes houses instead of colored pieces of glass.

The cityscape somehow feels organic, even alive. Clearly it's been left to the bridges to decide from where and to where they go; they carry whatever they like, trains, cars, pedestrians or busses, and they are not in the least concerned about their appearance, construction or age. When a ship approaches on the River Tyne, some turn, others tilt and yet more stay put. It is as if humans and bridges live side by side in a kind of symbiosis never seen before in the world.

Oh, how on earth did I get to this point? There you have it folks. This city really does mess with the brain.