Blue Carpet

Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Blue Carpet

Evaluation

It is difficult to classify the Blue Carpet, which is essentially a flooring scheme. Is it urban design, landscape architecture or public art? Thomas Heatherwick, the principal designer of the Blue Carpet who does not describe himself as an artist, insists that his work should be judged as a functional part of the city.

The project was heavily promoted as a piece of public art, which raised expectations to a very high level. When the space was first opened there was a degree of disappointment. People had been led to expect a paving material which would be bright blue rather than the subtle grey-blue that they were given. Heatherwick is satisfied that the material is as blue as it possibly could be within the limits set by considerations of durability and safety.

The Blue Carpet's design is interesting but uncluttered, and it provides a sociable space which is certainly well used at lunchtimes. At night, when the character of this part of the city changes with the influx of clubbers and revellers, the neon tubes beneath the benches add to the carnival atmosphere.

Some critics have not liked the way the area surrounding the carpet has been treated and have asked why these left-over spaces could not have been designed to the same high standards. This was part of Heatherwick's concept. He wished to draw attention to the special quality of the Blue Carpet by ensuring a contrast with its immediate surroundings.

During construction of the Blue Carpet doubts were raised about the durability of the new material. Some experts were sceptical about the possibility of bonding glass and concrete. Eventually resin was used rather than a cement-based matrix and few problems of wear or weathering have appeared. However, the use of non-standard components is likely to cause problems in the future. It is not easy to change the neon tubes beneath the benches, for example, and when one of the seats was damaged by a delivery vehicle, only Thomas Heatherwick Studios could provide a replacement.

When the competition brief was first issued, the project budget was £300,000. This would have been a reasonable sum for a piece of art to go into a space, but once Heatherwick's made clear he wanted to design the whole space it became apparent that it would be insufficient. Additional funding was obtained from the Arts Lottery Fund and from the European Regional Development Fund. The final budget for the space was £1.4m. This amount raised eyebrows when reported in the local press though it does not seem wildly inappropriate for a city like Newcastle, which is committed to raising its profile and attracting both tourists and investment through cultural initiatives. This view must have prevailed within the city council, which is to be commended for sticking with the project despite these difficulties. Arguably what a city like Newcastle needs is not just one square designed with this degree of flair and attention, but a whole series of such spaces.