TOP architect Sir Terry Farrell was back in town yesterday on the eve of the public opening of the Great North Museum.
After three years of work and £26m spent, the listed 19th Hancock Museum in Newcastle has been refashioned into a 21st Century visitor attraction and a showcase for 3,500 exhibits.
It’s a big deal. But for Sir Terry, whose prestigious London practice were the architects for the museum, it is one more substantial piece in a long-term vision to transform his native city.
He sees the museum as the latest big step in the masterplan he delivered to bring neighbouring Newcastle University closer to the city and its people.
This led to the concept of a Cultural Quarter gateway to the north of the city, embracing Newcastle and Northumbria universities and the Civic Centre.
Although based in London for the last 43 years, Sir Terry grew up in a prefab house in the Grange council estate in Gosforth, Newcastle.
After his education at St Cuthbert’s Grammar School in the city he studied architecture at King’s College, now Newcastle University but then part of Durham University. His frequent returns to his roots include the commission in 1989 to draw up the masterplan for the regeneration of the rundown East Quayside in Newcastle.
"It triggered all kinds of other things. It had a ripple effect," he said yesterday.
In 1996 Farrells took on the job of designing Newcastle’s International Centre for Life and, in Times Square, the city’s first public square for over a century.
The masterplan for the university reflected its growth in student numbers, as an education and research hub and as a major employer.
The move towards a Cultural Quarter was partly to balance the shift of gravity in the city which had leaned towards the rejuvenated Quayside and Grainger Town.
"The Great North Museum is a major plank in the offer of the Cultural Quarter," said Sir Terry, who spent many a boyhood hour in the Hancock Museum.
The task was to change a 19th Century building with separate enclosed rooms which seemed to be the preserve of elderly scholars into an exciting, open "edu-tainment" venue through which visitors could promenade.
"It has been a fantastic project and I think people will be really excited by it. I am a great respecter of old buildings but museums, like cities, can never remain static if they are going to remain relevant to today’s society," he said.
Sir Terry is a director of development company 1NG, set up last year to co-ordinate the development of Newcastle and Gateshead.
"The big issue for Newcastle is that, although it is a busy city, it is rather isolated. Newcastle and Gateshead together have bigger clout," said Sir Terry.
Another of Sir Terry’s vision is for a Geordie version of Barcelona’s Ramblas.
This would stretch from the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, along the Newcastle Quayside, up the historic Pilgrim Street route to Northumberland Street and the Haymarket, and on to the Town Moor.
And with Sir Terry behind it, you wouldn’t want to bet against it happening some day.