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Derwent Tower

Hob Uid: 1499405
Location :
Gateshead
Gateshead
Grid Ref : NZ2319062003
Summary : A thirty-storey tower block with buttresses, built as public housing to a septagon design plan as part of a redevelopment scheme. The block connects to the scheme with a series of ramps and walkways. Each unit in the block is designed for 2-3 people. There are 196 dwellings in total. Underground parking is also provided. The main structure is of reinforced concrete with precast concrete panels on the exterior. At the time of construction, the flats were the tallest in the North at 273 feet high. The architects for the development were Owen Luder and Brian Jones Partnership. Construction was approved by committee in 1967.
More information : The block was constructed by Whickham Urban District Council. The Alternate Name is the name that was given to the contract for the development. (1)

The central area redevelopment scheme also consists of 22 low rise housing developments, 13 shops, a supermarket and a working men's club. The total cost of the project was £1,350,000, providing 383 council homes for 1000 people at a ratio of 100 people per acre. Underground parking is provided for 157 cars. The decision to build only one high block resulted from the poor soil conditions and a requirement for open space. Floors 1 to 9 provide two-bedroom, three-person flats, projecting from the point block. Floors 10 to 28 provide one-bedroom, two-person flats. (3) This arrangement responded to Whickham Urban District Council's policy of not placing large families with small children in high rise blocks. (2)

The block is floated on a three-storey, 14 ft [Sic] diameter caisson, which encloses the spiral parking ramp. The main structural walls stand on radial beams with buttresses distributing loads to the caisson perimeter. Construction is of in situ reinforced concrete with possible precast elements. The exterior of the block is precast lightweight panels. Floors 1 to 9 provide two-bedroom, three-person flats, projecting from the point block. Floors 10 to 28 provide one-bedroom, two-person flats. (3) This arrangement responded to Whickham Urban District Council's policy of not placing large families with small children in high rise blocks. Peter Abbott was the Associate-in-Charge. John Spohrer was the Assistant. Mason, Pittendrigh and Partners were structural consultants. Davis, Belfield and Everest were the Quantity Surveyors. Construction was completed by July 1969. (3)

The Housing and Town Planning Committee requested the use of an outside architectural firm because of the limitations of the site and also a staff shortage in the County Town Planning department at this time. (4)

In the late 1960s Whickham Urban District Council planned a major public housing redevelopment scheme at Dunston, intended to replace an existing area of two-storey 19th century terraces. The clients brief stated that 50% of the new dwellings were to be housed in high-rise blocks of at least 22 storeys each; dwellings in the high-rise blocks were to be one and two bed-roomed units and the remainder of the houses were to be in either low or medium rise blocks comprising two to four bed-roomed units. The Owen Luder Partnership was appointed as architects and their initial scheme for the development proposed a totally low-rise scheme, owing to the unstable ground conditions caused by extensive mining in the area and regular flooding of the site by the River Team. This initial scheme was rejected by Whickham Council who ideally wanted three high-rise blocks but insisted there must be at least one.
After extensive discussion with a firm of structural engineers A P Mason, Pittendrigh and Partners, it was decided that the only way to provide a high-rise block for the scheme was to base it on a sunken ring of concrete forming a caisson - the only possible method of creating a stable enough base for a high-rise block. This was the starting point for the design of the overall scheme: one tall tower block to accommodate couples and single people, with families housed in surrounding low-rise blocks which were built on standard raft foundations. Construction began in 1969 and was complete in 1973-4, providing 400 dwellings and a shopping centre. The scheme was integrated by the provision of concrete walkways from the third floor of the tower block to two of the adjacent maisonette blocks, and by the creation of open spaces within and around the estate. The requirement to site a low cost high-rise block on a circular foundation determined the character of that building; while a circular building would have been the obvious choice, this was too costly so an irregular, angular design was chosen. To free up space around the buildings, the sunken caisson was used as an underground spiral car park, which had the extra benefit of providing extra recreational space around the building, free from the clutter and risk of cars.
The buildings have undergone some modification since their construction. The low-rise maisonette blocks have suffered significant alteration from their original design: pitched roofs of modern orange tile have replaced their original flat form, the open balconies have been partially enclosed, the open concrete walkways connecting the maisonettes are covered with brightly coloured steel and glass screens and the flush aluminium windows have modern timber replacements, some of which have had projecting triangular forms inserted. Other alterations include the demolition of some original ramps and walkways to facilitate construction of a new shared lobby, new staircases in order to improve accessibility and the partial rendering or painting of the originally distinctive exposed concrete and brick filled panels. The Derwent Tower itself has also suffered alteration including the replacement of original lifts, the infilling of the narrow loops on the exterior of the building and the glazing of the formerly open tenth service floor and the installation of a new glazed canopy to the ground floor entrance in the mid 1980s. Also in the 1980s, the original concrete walkways linking the tower block at third floor level with the adjacent maisonette blocks were removed and more recently, the interior of all flats within the tower have been gutted and most fittings removed.
The Ravensworth Road Estate is situated on the south bank of the River Tyne, on the floodplain of the River Team, a tributary of the Tyne, in the heart of the former mining village of Dunston. The estate comprises four low-rise blocks and a single high-rise block known as the Derwent Tower. All of the buildings are constructed of reinforced concrete with grey brick curtain walling. The low-rise blocks contain maisonettes, one of which incorporates a ground floor shopping centre of thirteen shops and a supermarket. The blocks are three and four storeys high with pitched roofs of tile, covered balconies and timber windows. The tower block is 280 ft high and comprises 29 storeys containing 196 flats providing accommodation for 300 people. The plan of the tower is that of a cog-wheel with five risers which project above roof level to support and screen the usual roof-top service features. The tower is supported by large concrete fin-like flying buttresses which rise from the ground to fifth floor level. The tower is constructed upon a caisson, the base of which forms a deep underground resident's spiral car park with space for 167 lock up garages and below this large pumps. A series of landscaped spaces link the buildings together.
Internally, the low-rise blocks employ standard layouts for their dates. The plan of the tower is structured and changes between the tenth and eleventh floors: two bed-roomed units occupy floors one to nine and one bed-roomed units occupy floors eleven to twenty nine. Each floor comprises seven dwellings arranged in a seven pointed star around a central service area containing stairs and lifts. Few original internal fixtures or fittings were identified, the flats having been refurbished on several occasions, and most had been stripped of all internal features. The space forming floor ten is used for services including the water supply for the tower block. Originally open, this floor was subsequently provided with glazing to prevent air borne bacteria contaminating the tower's water supply.
The building was assessed for listing in 2009, but did not meet the criteria for addition to the list for the following reasons:
It is a late example of Brutalism which was not innovative in the development of the style, the pioneering phase of which took place in the 1950s and early 1960s.
It is a late example of the type of public housing estate, combining low-rise development with a single point block, developed during the 1950s and early 60s.
Developments in public housing had moved on to low to medium rise public housing such as Ralph Erskine's Byker Estate, rather than high-rise schemes; consequently this design is not an influential example.
Its integrity as an example of Brutalist public housing has been compromised by significant alteration to the four low-rise blocks which have been stripped of their original character.
While the tower is of undoubted visual interest for its external sculptural qualities and `rocket' like appearance, this is insufficient to overcome its shortcomings as a (poor) example of 1970s public housing in the national context.
The interior of the units employ standard layouts and having undergone several refurbishments, and few if any original features remain. (5)

The original journal article representing source 3 refers to the use of caisson of 14' diameter. However this does not make sense when compared to the drawings accompanying the same article, the caisson appears to be much larger, more in the region of 140'. (6)

An article published in 1973 in 'The Structural Engineer', based on a paper originally presented in 1971to the Northern Counties branch of the Institute of Structural Engineers, gives technical details of the construction of the tower block with a number of illustrations and photographs. This article clarifies the size of the caisson for the building as being 147' (45m) in diameter. The caisson was constructed using betonite slurry without kentledge. The shape of the tower earned it the sobriquet of "the Dunston Rocket" during construction. (7)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Tower block : modern public housing in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Source details : Gazetteer 1
Page(s) : 358
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : "Tallest Flats in the North", Building, 24 Sept 1971, reproduced in the personal archive of Dr Miles Glendinning held at Edinburh College of Art, Edinburgh.
Page(s) : 123
Figs. :
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Source Number : 3
Source : Architectural review
Source details : "Housing - Ravensworth Rd, Dunston, Co. Durham", Jan 1967, reproduced in the personal archive of Dr Miles Glendinning held at Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh.
Page(s) : 30-31
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 141
Source Number : 4
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : Minutes of the Housing and Town Planning Committee, 8th April 1965, reproduced in the personal archive of Dr Miles Gledinning held at Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh.
Page(s) : 42-43
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Source Number : 5
Source : English Heritage Listing File
Source details : Myra Tolan-Smith, 24-APR-2009
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 6
Source : Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments
Source details : Recorder's staff comment, Robin Page, 09-SEP-2010
Page(s) :
Figs. :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 7
Source : The Structural Engineer
Source details : Article by RF Nisbet: 'Whickham Tower Block: the design and construction of a 30 story block of flats'
Page(s) : 225-231
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 51, NO 7, 1973
Source Number :
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : Personal archive of Dr Miles Glendinning held at Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh.
Page(s) :
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Late 20th Century
Display Date : Construction approved 1967
Monument End Date : 1967
Monument Start Date : 1967
Monument Type : Tower Block, Council Flats, Underground Car Park
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Late 20th Century
Display Date : Constructed 1967-1969
Monument End Date : 1969
Monument Start Date : 1967
Monument Type : Tower Block, Council Flats, Underground Car Park
Evidence : Extant Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : No List Case
External Cross Reference Number : 506573/001
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : NZ 26 SW 322
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : TOWER BLOCK DATABASE PILOT PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2009-01-01
End Date : 2009-12-31