Hebburn Central is – literally and metaphorically – an all-singing, all-dancing project. The focal point of a regeneration scheme in South Shields on the outskirts of Newcastle, this boxy, industrial-looking, £11.1m building, clad in fashionable, rust-coloured Corten steel panels and ribbons of glazing, houses a dance studio, gym, library, swimming pool and cafe alongside public sector customer service facilities.
“We wanted a mix of uses that don’t normally occur in one public building, all united in a simple structure,” says Lee McLaughlin of FaulknerBrowns Architects, the Newcastle-based practice that designed Hebburn Central. “The idea of shared spaces was important in helping to reinforce connectivity within the community.”
The project was initiated in 2012 when South Tyneside Council commissioned FaulknerBrowns to develop a masterplan to revitalise the area, formerly a major shipbuilding centre. Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company was based here until 1973, when it was bought by shipbuilding firm Swan Hunter, which developed it as the Hebburn Shipbuilding Dock. The industry fell into decline in the 1990s, but vestiges of it remain today in the form of marine maintenance and ship repair facilities.
With the 5,800sq m Hebburn Central and surrounding masterplan, FaulknerBrowns has been on a mission to reference the area’s shipbuilding heritage and heal what it perceives to be a townscape scarred by the demolition of mid to late 20th-century buildings. “The regeneration began with an extensive demolition of mainly high-rise, postwar housing led by the local authority, some of which stood on our site,” explains McLaughlin. “This left behind a convoluted street layout, and one of our main aims was to repair this. We were keen to look at the area’s streetscape prior to the fifties. Our proposals realign the town centre with a more cohesive street pattern that knits old with new. The new streets will have new private homes and retail spaces next to Hebburn Central.”
This civic beacon’s design is seen by the architects and council as playing a key role in the healing process. Of course, whether a contemporary architectural aesthetic contributes to a community’s wellbeing is open to question. But McLaughlin believes it can: “We think the building is bold and carefully considered. Our client shared our vision of the positive impact that progressive design can make on users and the wider community.”
Hebburn Central’s partially Corten-clad facade specifically nods to the area’s shipbuilding history. “We talked with local marine fabricators and suppliers of sheet material,” says McLaughlin, who also likes the textured patina and raw aesthetic of Corten for romantic reasons, it seems: “We wanted the building’s envelope to look less processed and commercial. Corten looks different at different times of the day and year. It continually evolves.”
But Corten was chosen, too, for one very practical reason: “It needs no maintenance.” Crucially, the panels were prefabricated off-site as bespoke, modular elements, which reduced the time taken to install them. And, from a sustainability perspective, this obviated having to remove waste from the site. Hebburn Central has other environmentally friendly qualities. “Warm air and heat generated in the gym, which is separated from the pool by glass, is used to heat the pool,” says McLaughlin. “Typically up to 400W of heat is generated by a person on a treadmill doing a proper run. Usually this heat is ejected to the atmosphere. Redirecting it to heat the pool reduces energy consumption.”
In keeping with the project’s inclusive aims, the extensively glazed building is designed to feel accessible. As Rick O’Farrell, head of economic regeneration at South Tyneside Council, puts it: “Its transparency encourages maximum use of its facilities. In turn, this will maximise the building’s positive impact on the community.”
A Tyneside town boosted by its flagship one-stop community centre