The Architectural Uncanny

A Polaroid photograph of an apartment block in Wolfe Street, The Hill. I spotted this building on the first day of my residence in Newcastle and subsequently walked past it on a number of occasions. Each time I came across it I was struck by the sense of the uncanny that the structure embodied. Built sometime in the first half of the 2oth century, this solid, largely unremarkable building features a central staircase that leads to an unseen and unimaginable interior. Escaping the harsh sunlight and disappearing into the at once inviting and foreboding darkness, the staircase is an unsettling and enduring presence. On the last day of my residence I returned here to film with artist Penny Thwaite, whose ascension into the darkness I shot on Ektachrome super-8.

The Future That Never Came

The above image, was published in the Newcastle Herald on the 1st of June 1968.  This proposed plan for Newcastle East involved the complete leveling of the city centre and was credited to an unidentified “professional man in the City.”  The plan called for the existing urban environment to be replaced with a utopian dreamscape of high density housing, parks, carparking  and a shopping mall that would “allow housewives to shop at their leisure in quiet surroundings.”

This scorched earth approach to urban planning was pioneered by the architect Le Corbusier who in 1925 put forward his Plan Voisin for Paris. This called for the destruction of large sections of central Paris, replacing the antiquated and disparate architecture with a unified new order of high density housing, parks etc. In Le Corbusier defence there was an element of avant-garde provocation in his proposal. However, this didn’t stop his vision for a new urbanism becoming the default setting for much twentieth century town planning.

While this vision for Newcastle thankfully never came to pass, there is one element to the plan that is today as topical as it is contentious, the abolition of the railway line into Newcastle central . In recent  years this issue has become a planning impasse with the current GPT backed redevelopment of the CBD stalled as the State Government undertakes a transport study for the area. The results of the study are due in June 2010. A virtual tour of the new future Newcastle is viewable here.

The Store

A series of Polaroid photographs taken on level 2 of the partially derelict Hunter St building that once housed the long defunct department store known simply as “The Store”. A ubiquitous presence in the newspaper advertisements of 1968, The Store ceased trading in 1983. The massive building was radically remodeled sometime thereafter to house a number of smaller shops and a food court. Today, the building is largely empty with whole floors abandoned. A sports-shoe warehouse (3rd floor)  and a computer shop (1st floor) were the only operating businesses when I visited.