The ‘Best of Bensham’ project proposes a site-specific model for tackling the economic decline of high-streets by promoting inter-generational education, small-scale manufacturing and craft. It also encourages direct involvement for individuals and the community in affecting their local environment. Re-purposing a group of fire-damaged structures, using architectural creative re-use principles and benefiting from the existing contextual qualities, the proposition creates an economic, social and learning hub for the communities in Bensham, Gateshead and a potential model solution to the wider issue of declining high-streets.
The main insertion, a permanent steel frame forming a covered yards space, allows for assembly and disassembly of small workspace units over time, allowing the building to adapt to the economic and creative needs while maintaining a core set of conditions for craft activities, skill transfer and social interaction. The existing load-bearing brick building ‘shells’ are refurbished to provide the fixed, permanent educational and social spaces.
The scheme is situated away from the main strip one would consider the typical high-street. Located between Coatsworth Road, Alexandra Road and Westfield Terrace, a hinterland behind residential properties and run-down social club buildings, the site also adjoins the Territorial Army and Regimental Headquarters. This juxtaposition of scales and typologies in close proximity provides an opportunity to reconsider the use of the high street as more than just convenience retailing. The architectural response reflects this through:
A| The retained load-bearing walls;
B| The new steel frame and canopy roof;
C| The circulation in-between.