Foster & Partners´ The Sage Gateshead has opened (UK)

Foster and Partners’ £70 million performing arts centre, The Sage Gateshead opened officially to the public on 17 December 2004. With its dramatic shell-like form, the glistening stainless steel clad building perches high above the River Tyne enjoying spectacular views towards Newcastle.

It fulfils three demanding criteria: to create an international centre for musical performance and education, with acoustically excellent auditoria and unparalleled teaching facilities; a major public building that is fully inclusive and accessible for all; and a centrepiece for the regenerated Gateshead Quays area.

Appointed in 1997 after an international selection process, Foster and Partners lead a team of consultants including Arup Acoustics, Buro Happold, Davis Langdon, Mott MacDonald and Theatre Projects Consultants.

A single, flowing roof unifies three separate auditoria, back of house facilities, a Music Education Centre, entertainment rooms, offices for The Sage Gateshead and a public concourse. The roof soars above the concert halls, its shape inspired - in part - by the iconic arches of the Tyne Bridge. Under this dramatic form, the independent volumes of the three halls, each with its own particular shape, can be easily distinguished. Accessibility for all has been key to our design approach. For example the performance spaces of all three auditoria and the loading dock are on the same level allowing ease of access for people with mobility impairments and ensuring a high level of operational flexibility.

The covered concourse -with magnificent views across to the vibrant Newcastle quayside and cityscape beyond - is the public focus of the building. This is a major new internal public space, an ‘urban room’ open sixteen hours a day with cafes, bars, shops, box office, Music Information Centre and most importantly, informal performance spaces. An atmosphere of informality is encouraged by the reduction of back-of-house hospitality so that performers can mix with their audiences, students and children alike. The concourse is also part of a major pedestrian route linking the low-level Swing Bridge to the West with the new Millennium Bridge to the East, the principal pedestrian routes between Gateshead and Newcastle.

This route is further strengthened by the principal artistic commission on the project - Kate Maestri’s colourful ribbon of glass that runs from the outside, through into the building and across the concourse, to reappear once again on the other side.

Four grand staircases rise from the concourse leading to the foyers, which wrap around the auditoria, the Northern Rock Foundation Hall and the entertainment rooms above.

An equally grand staircase descends to the Music Education Centre, nestled below the public concourse, taking advantage of the steeply inclined site. The Music Education Centre, a resource for the entire north-east region, has 26 music practice rooms and workshops arranged along a snaking mall with views across the river and up to the concourse above.

From the outside the shape of the roof, with its rippling wave-like form, whose cross-section can be likened to a sea-shell, alludes to the three different auditoria it houses. Its faceted, stainless steel panels reflect light in a multiplicity of ways to create an ever-changing, kinetic display.

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Source: Foster and Partners

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