Tuesday, 7 February 2012

"If you can imagine it, Middlesbrough probably has it"

A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Middlesbrough, the town where I was born and spent my first 19 years, when I left 8 and a half years ago the area known as "over the border" was a no go area...prostitution, dodgy nightclubs (more likely gentlemens clubs...) and boarded up houses, that kind of thing. The nearby area known as Middlehaven was home to only three things which anyone ever visited, the Transporter bridge, The Riverside Football stadium, and the nightclub boat with a revolving dancefloor, given to Middlesbrough when Newcastle got a bigger, better boat. If you did a google or flickr search of the St Hilda's area (which is over that notorious border) or Middlehaven at that time you'd be likely to get images of gypsy horses, abandoned homes and maybe even the greasy spoon cafes. But then,a few years ago now, before the recession hit and the construction industry and property market went down the pan, Middlesbrough was promised a new Riverside development, apartments, cafes and shops...Will Alsop, FAT architects and lots of other big name architects came in and drew up a masterplan, it was full of colourful apartments and images of people on boats on the river, now if you google "Middlehaven" you'll get computer generated models of apartment buildings that look like sugarcubes and lots of people (who definately dont look like they come from Middlesbrough) drinking lattes on their way to work.
That was before 2007, then the recession hit, and everything came to a stop, a college was built that hurts my eyes to look at, then they invited artist Anish Kapoor to create some public art, and so "Temenos", or the "giant pointless fishing net" as I prefer to call it, appeared, and now the first apartment block, designed by FAT architects is near completion, when I was at Middlehaven, I had a look around (but couldn't get inside) the timber facade reminds me of one of those toys for toddlers where they have to fit shapes into the right holes on a ball and the apartments at the top reminded me of the old man's house from the Disney film "Up" which I loved.

Anyway, turns out that this new building, or CIAC (Community in a cube) as its been named, will be the only building that was on the original masterplan at Middlehaven, which is a bit scary because its in the middle of wasteland, the ground floor of the building will apparently have a pub(there's no where nearby to buy a pint of milk, but you're never a few floors away from a gin and tonic and a packet of crisps), and I can imagine it turning into the J.G Ballard book "High Rise" where all the residents of a tower block end up getting to know each other so well because of the community living that they start to turn on each other, drowning each others dogs and vandalizing the building, but CIAC will be even worse because it is in Middlesbrough, and there is NOTHING to do in Middlesbrough, though the marketing for CIAC suggest a bit differently to what I think.....
"This place is home to industry, heritage, sport and culture. Where the cost of living is low, but the enjoyment level is high. As well as the bars and nightlife, there is an influx of designer shops, you have film, theatre, football, golf, fine food, comedy, concerts. In fact, if you can imagine it, Middlesbrough probably has it." It really doesn't, and I am allowed to say this because I lived there, as far as fine food goes,the most popular food seems to be the donut kiosk outside Next where the sugary scent lures in Tees-siders, who already are donut shaped, on their fag breaks for a dose of nicotine and a bag of jam filled grease, of course you are never more than 50 feet away fron a greggs in Middlesbrough too for a sausage roll,there is one cinema and if its comedy you're after, you can always rely on chubby brown to be on at the town hall.
I'm not a fan of CIAC, even though the area surrounding it is mainly wasteland, there are pieces of architecture nearby which have been ignored for years, and it seems CIAC has been designed without any reference to the context in which it sits. Granted, the area isn't an area rich with architectural gems, but there are some which I hope will be saved, and it seems more sense to me to put new life into existing, abandoned or forgotten buildings which might spark regeneration in the surrounding area rather than try and build from scratch without any reference to the area; it seems that CIAC was designed to fit only into a masterplan which wont go ahead.

Above: Middlesbrough's original town hall, now boarded up

Above: Everyone "Flickr photographer" who goes to St Hildas likes to take photos of the gypsy horses

Above, The old captain Cook pub, recently closed, and former landlady with hair that matches her blouse

Above: The Clock tower

Above: Customs House, no longer in use
St hilda's is home to Middlesbrough's original town hall, which has been boarded up for years, and to an abandoned customs house, to the old clock tower which now looks lost, and to the recently closed captain cook's pub, all of which have potential to have new purposes. I wish MIddlesbrough council would do something before these buildings fall into dis repair, but I just dont see it happening, oh well, I will have to accept that CIAC is the future of Middlehaven, but if you hear of a resident's alsation getting drowned in the River Tees, then I warned you first. I cant imagine who will live there apart from MIddlesbrough Football club players and their WAGS, if i had to live there I would live in one of the blue houses at the top that remind me of "Up" I would wear my pastel peach dress and, as inspired by the film, would travel to my "home in the sky" by a big bunch of balloons so I could avoid having to talk to the WAGS in the lifts.......

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