Swan House

Robert Matthew Johnson Marshall

“a sublime elevated grid, at the centre of a riot of walkways and highways” Owen Hatherley 2010

Perched on massive concrete stilts, the GPO Telecommunications headquarters would come to symbolise the ‘white heat’ of cutting edge technology at the heart of the City Planners Central Development Plan that would reshape Newcastle in mid 1960s. Set at the junction of Mosley Street and Pilgrim Street, the building is designed to cantilever over the roundabout at the first new junction of the city’s Eastern Central Motorway connecting Gateshead to the Universities, new galleries, Civic Centre, Gosforth, and the Town Moor. The tower is formed as a distinctive slab block with long concrete elevations punctured by a grid of openings. The building is cantilevered from ‘legs’ which hold the service cores and circulation, spanning out over the roundabout and roadway.

The site controversially replaced John Grainger’s Royal Arcade (based Burlington Arcade, London) which housed a variety of shops,post office, some banks and a steam vapour baths. The arcade was dismantled with the intention to reassemble it into the new Swan House building. The fragments where numbered and dumped in playing field in Shieldfield. Eventually cost savings led to the arcade being rebuilt as a poor mock-replica deemed by writer Ian Nairn as being a ‘pointless reconstruction’.

The urban planning of Swan House set in the roundabout leaves the large complex isolated from the city. As a result pedestrian movement, meant that the Royal arcade replica shopping centre would open 1961 and closed in 1963. The underpass would prove an unpleasant route, which remains relatively unpopular to this today.

By 1984 the Conservative government had sold off the public telecommunications network and the office building began was abandoned until it was converted in 2004 by Ryder Architecture into residential flats and rebranded ’55 Degrees North’. The clearance of the mock-arcade was replaced with a large open square.

Image 1 copyright of authors
Images 2-6 copyright of Tyne and Wear Archive
Image 7 source unknown