Thoroughly Modern Stairways: Green Glass Clearly (Tough), June 2017

So what was happening inside the building, do I hear you wondering, while I was exploring the narrative possibilities of the side-walks?  Well, with just over two months remaining to Hand-Over, it was by now largely a story of fixtures and fittings.  Not so interesting to me, it has to be said, but, to one who has taught creative writing, there’s always a story in there somewhere.  I can highly recommend the book ‘Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction’ (my favourite writing genre, if you hadn’t already guessed) by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola.  The title is taken from the opening line of an Emily Dickinson poem: ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant -‘  All writing channels someone’s world view, of course.  You get mine.  To me it’s as clear as day the glass photographed above is green.  Tough.

And clearly it is tough because it is green.

The glass delivery that Giuseppe photographed on June 9th was all destined for the new internal staircases in both buildings – the GDST building spec being that there should be no discernable difference to the working and teaching spaces in either the old building or in the new build.  Which is fair enough for 21st Century education, I guess.  So nowadays on Tankerville Terrace, if I may quote Thoroughly Modern Millie, ‘Everything today is thoroughly modern.’ 

The Newcastle High/Church High north stairs.

The old dark wood north stairs will always hold a special place in my heart, but I guess they did take up a lot of space and created split floor levels on every landing.  The new staircase design in the circulation extension is less characterful but more economical of space.

M & G Olympic’s design for the new NHSG north staircase.

The original wood Newcastle High/Church High south stairs still remains, but all other staircases in Newcastle High School for Girls are now identical.  M & G Olympic’s design for the re-fit incorporates balustrades of toughened laminated glass with stainless steel handrails.  Giuseppe’s photos show the installation process.

The slight green tint to this large expanse of glass as it winds upwards above you really is very beautiful.  Whilst not exactly a stairway to Heaven, it brings to mind another line of Thoroughly Modern Millie: ‘Pin my future on a green glass love/What kind of life am I dreaming of?’ Glass reflects light, of course, so the new stairwell in the old building infill extension will never be a dark place – greatly helped by the addition of a large window on the very top landing.

The large window installed at second floor level looks out onto the roof of the 1927 extension (the old Church High Geography rooms).

Waiting to provide the finishing touch to the new-look stairs,  the stainless steel handrails were at that time all piled up in the yard.

Stainless steel handrails waiting to be fitted.

On June 9th, work had yet to begin on the Science Block staircase.  Despite ‘having found myself a green glass love’,  it was still really nice, thanks to Giuseppe, to know one stairway was still as it used to be.

The open door onto the courtyard shows the Science Block stairs are, as yet, untouched.

Until I looked at these pictures in retrospect, tinged with nostalgia, I can’t say I was ever really aware the handrails here were green metal.  It’s funny how little attention we actually pay to integral features of a building we use every day.  I’ve learned that from this process.  The photo below, taken just a few days later after the handrails had been removed, shows that even they had a certain kind of beauty.

The green metal handrails look subtly different out of context.

To colleagues who didn’t know the building beforehand – or never thought to take the time to come and look at it as we knew it – it would be easy to assume that it has had a total modern make-over.  But some of us know different.  One of the most beautiful modern features of the Church High building was situated at its very heart: the sweeping promenade of ash wood and steelwork which made up the Learning Resources Centre mezzanine levels and stairways.  When I’ve shown pictures of it subsequently to my ex-Central colleagues, to say they were surprised would be an understatement.  It’s ridiculous, from my point-of-view at least, that the most modern stairway on the Tankerville site ‘failed to make the final cut.’  And it was simply devastating to see it all reduced to rubble.  What waste.

Sad sight: LRC being dismantled during the strip-out process.

Thanks to this blog, however, at least we can remember it at its best.

The mezzanine levels of the LRC made the perfect venue for a final photo of the rank and file in green on Y11 Leavers Day.

‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant -/Success in Circuit lies/Too bright for our infirm Delight/The Truth’s superb surprise/As Lightening to the Children eased/With explanation kind/The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind -‘ [Emily Dickinson].

One thought on “Thoroughly Modern Stairways: Green Glass Clearly (Tough), June 2017”

  1. What were they thinking of? Complete madness. When I think of how much work, time and effort I put into planning the Learning Resources Centre, working alongside the architects and Senior Management…….. And it was only completed 14 years ago. In building terms, that’s nothing. I just fail to see the logic!

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