The Malings review – a welcome tale of the riverbank

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The Malings review – a welcome tale of the riverbank
The Malings, right of picture, on the Ousburn: interlocking units which, according to architects Ash Sakula, offer the qualities of both flats and houses

Ash Sakula’s development of modest urban dwellings in Ouseburn, Newcastle Upon Tyne provides a masterclass in quiet invention, style and sustainable living

I know, I know, Gateshead is not the same place as Newcastle but, standing on the Quayside of the latter, you can take in a panorama of the former that has salutary lessons for both sides of the Tyne. To the right is the superb array of bridges that span the river. Straight ahead is one of the greatest concentrations of lottery-assisted, culturally enhanced, multiple-agency-funded, award-winning, world-class-architected regeneration zones in the country. There is the billowing, silvery Sage concert hall, by Foster + Partners, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and Wilkinson Eyre’s Blinking Eye Bridge, a parabolic new-millennium update on those famous Tyne-crossers a short distance upstream.

Then, in among them, are some of the most clueless apartment buildings from a decade – the 00s – abundant in such things. Papery and stumpy at once, their vertical accents and white-beige-russet palette pay vague tribute to the noble ex-flour mill that contains the Baltic, but succeed only in diminishing it and themselves at once. Perhaps mercifully, this development makes no attempt to mimic the shapes that the Sage cuts, but edges nervously alongside, like the nerd next to the big blonde on the dancefloor. These blocks were briefly proud to boast Tyneside’s first million-pound flats; they were going for less than half that, post-crash.

Up on the hill is a space in the sky once occupied by Trinity Square car park, made famous in the 1971 Michael Caine classic Get Carter and demolished to the bleats and lamentations of critics, less so from the local population. This time the bleating critics were right, at least architecturally speaking: the brooding, magnificent car park has been replaced by a development of student accommodation above a Tesco: stacked-up boxes like shipping containers without the romance, over which curved roofs crawl like big grey slugs. […]

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