Although completed only two years later than Newcastle Civic Centre, the architectural style adopted at Sunderland was very different and represented not only a change in architectural ideas, but also a change in the notion of what local government meant and the function it performed. As opposed to the traditional town hall plan, arranged around the elected representatives’ suites and council chamber, Sunderland Civic Centre was planned with the public enquiry desk at its most central point. The main accommodation is arranged around two major hexagons with courtyards in the centre. A third, solid hexagon, located at the top of the site, houses the Council Chamber and Civic Suite.
The building is set out on an unusual triangular grid which generates the hexagonal form. Within the public spaces, the 120 degree angles have the effect of opening up the corridors, creating an ease of movement through a series of partially or wholly enclosed courts and making journeys around the building appear more direct. The project architect, Jack Bonnington, described how the building was arranged to create a continuous flow from one space to the next. In response to the steeply sloping site, he writes:
“It appeared almost a natural solution to form a series of terraces, one leading to another, and follow the same pattern in the building itself with one floor retreating from the previous level”. (Northern Architect, 1975)
A further contrast with Newcastle Civic Centre is in the palette of materials used. In comparison to the expensive and exotic materials used at Newcastle, a modest palette comprising mainly of brown brindled engineering brick was used for both interior and exterior. This not only created continuity between the outside and inside spaces but allowed the building’s distinctive hexagonal form to take centre stage.
Image 1 copyright of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Image 2 licenced under the Creative Commons
Images 3-5 copyright of authors
Images 6-8 copyright of authors (model by Northumbria University)