Newcastle Museum consists of a series of revitalised “turn of the Century” industrial brick railway workshop buildings, the Blacksmith’s and Wheel Shop (1880), the Locomotive Boiler Shop (1887), and the New Erecting Shop (1920) located within the urban waterfront regeneration precinct of Honeysuckle. The challenge was to provide a linkage element to not only create a new sense of identity for the heritage structures and to provide an visually and physically accessible entrance to the three buildings, but to also upgrade them to accommodate a national standard museum and associated support requirements, without diminishing the integrity of the existing fabric.
The concept for the new Museum was to create a cohesive complement to the heavy brick structures though a lightness of form and touch. The new building elements are conceived as aseries of floating cloud like roof forms that hover inbetween the heavy masonry of the existing workshops. These white cloud-like forms draw in natural light, shade and protect visitors and exhibits, while also creating a new sense of entry and central orientation for the Museum circulation.
Below the floating roof forms is the ‘Link’ structure in steel and glass that accommodates the foyer, temporary exhibition and circulation areas. The Link structure is joined to the adjacent Workshop buildings via a series of metal tubelike forms that create extended threshold transition zones into the differing exhibition volumes.
The visual impact of the development is subtle as the new development is generally contained within the profile of the heritage buildings. The materials used in the new Link are complementary to the existing use of the site – industrial finishes; concrete, steel, glass, form a neutral backdrop for the museum’s collection display.
Architecturally, the Link provides both a spatial and a functional connection between the three workshop buildings. Spatially, the zone between the three buildings is complex, in particular the roof alignments between the Blacksmith’s Shop and the Boiler Shop.
Three quite different experiences are created within the walls of the existing heritage structures. Consistent with the new insertion of the ‘Link” any contemporary overlay is deliberately offset from the heritage fabric so that the spatial character of each workshop is evident. The Blacksmith’s and Wheel Shop contain the heart of the Museum – two pods containing intense social history exhibitions. These exhibitions are supported by public functions – a revitalised seminar room and a facilities zone. The Boilershop, which contains the historic Craven Crane, is used as a large open plan exhibition area – currently housing the “Supernova” – an educational Science exhibition. The Erecting Shed, the most altered of all three structures, houses The BHP Exhibition, conceived as a series of piston like ramps and platforms thrusting across the large volume. The Museum’s Administration is suspended within this volume.
The surrounding landscape complements the heritage fabric – a raised platform provides a subtle sense of enclosure, whilst the gently mounded lawn is a calm place to sit and contemplate away from the busy adjacent urban precincts of Honeysuckle and Civic.