University of Newcastle students design concepts for city's heavy rail corridor

DEVELOPMENT on Newcastle’s former rail corridor has the potential to dramatically transform the character of the city, according to the architecture students who have developed an alternative vision for the land.

University of Newcastle Head of Discipline (Architecture) Chris Tucker said 50 third-year students had each spent the past six weeks developing a concept for the corridor along the six blocks between Crown Street and Newcomen Street.

The students used a computer-controlled machine to cut timber models of their concepts – including an asylum seekers resource centre, a place where the elderly can hire pets, community kitchen, black box theatre, bird house, capsule hostel and modern art gallery – which have been unveiled as a 3.6 metre miniature of the city.

“We’re not interested in whether the rail line should go, or where light rail could be,” Mr Tucker said. “The decisions have already been made – now let’s start a discussion about what might come next.

“If we have nothing in the rail corridor now, what might it become? Let’s see what kind of character we can develop for our city.”

Mr Tucker said traditionally, six blocks of land would be divided into four or five sites and house large buildings.

He said the decision to divide the six blocks into 50 sites with a smattering of laneways encouraged “fine-grain” smaller-scale design.

“If we have large blocks of land that cost tens of millions of dollars there is only a small number of people who can purchase those blocks and build,” he said. “If you go down to Honeysuckle, for example, there’s lots of large buildings but not much character and it’s not a good place to be a pedestrian.

“We’re trying to make an argument for the city to be more financially equitable, to allow smaller players into the market. With the opportunity to develop different uses, the city becomes quite diverse.”

Mr Tucker said no two student concepts were alike, but many were skewed towards social justice and bringing nature back into the city, but through increased interaction with flora and fauna as opposed to parkland.

“The real outcome of this is hopefully it shows all of us that there’s lots of moving parts to a city and if you allow people to be creative and entrepreneurial about the way cities may be, you end up with all that cities can be.”

Students also spent six weeks designing a stop in the new light rail network.