Masters of Architecture students at the University of Newcastle have been assigned a new project for this semester: re-designing the CBD. With no restrictions in the brief, the possibilities are infinite and the students’ creativity is their only limit.

With the train line east of the Newcastle suburb of Wickham slated to be closed sometime after 2015, Wickham Station will be redeveloped as the line’s terminal station.

The future of the new station triggered the idea for the project to redesign the CBD. Newcastle University senior lecturers Yannis Zavoleas and Michael Chapman spoke of the design brief, the actual situation of the city, and the potential of the proposed project.

Zavoleas remembered the first time he arrived in Newcastle, he tried to find the centre but could not because the terminal is neither located at the centre nor recognized as a point of reference.

“Part of it is the fact that I couldn’t really see any high buildings to somehow define the centre, plus there wasn’t any place for dense activity an exchange happening close to the train station as it happens in most cities around the world,” he said.

“There are points to go, but there is a lack of a clear centre that defines the city – the place to go when you want to feel the vibration of the city. I think a city like Newcastle should somehow have a clear centre that actually functions as a node that various areas around the centre could be connected so it’s more of a network that has to refer somehow to the central area. I think the area we’re working on can play that role.”

Newcastle Train Station

Newcastle Train Station

According to Zavoleas, the big challenge for the students/designers will be to maintain and enhance the city’s character through the entire renovation process.

“I think it is a fascinating experience for me as well because from this project and from the outcome of this project, I think we will all learn about this place. Even those who think they know about Newcastle will always find something new to learn,” he said.

Both Zavoleas and Chapman are excited to give their students a unique opportunity design for the future.

Newcastle CBD Map.

Newcastle CBD Map.

“I think that so much of the argument about the centre of Newcastle has been about the train line and the train line as a barrier to the development and connecting the CBD with the harbour. I’ve been in Newcastle long enough to see extremely dramatic transformations to the urban landscape in that last ten, fifteen years that have really erased some of the character of particularly the waterfront,” Chapman explained.

“The whole argument about the train line being a barrier to the city I think, for me as an architect, when I walk through that area I can see a large number of buildings, many built fairly recently that are more of a barrier of connectivity with the harbour than the train line has ever been.”

Chapman outlined the importance of making the students think about buildings not only as objects in a landscape but as pieces of a whole entity that help to frame urban experiences for citizens’ every day life, connecting spaces and forming part of a social and cultural network.

The students are encouraged to use their own analysis and experience of the site to drive the design process and define how they want their city to be redeveloped.

Hunter Street Mall

Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle CBD.

Though the project is still in its early days, it will allow students to challenge the existing debate and extend their own thinking, focusing on their own visions as citizens and future architects for the city.

“The more time you spend teaching students, you realise the value of the way students think and the power of their ideas and the enthusiasm and the qualities that they have to really advance our cities, which is probably where projects like this can start to get some momentum just by allowing that energy to find a vice in a forum,” Chapman said.

Once completed, the students’ projects will be on display in Newcastle city.