Byker Housing Development, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Ralph Erskine, Architect


As a young architect straight out of graduate school, I was lucky to be associated with Ralph Erskine’s work in Byker. In my earlier book, Design First: Design-based Planning for Communities, co-written with my wife Linda Brown, I described Erskine’s work as follows:

“Although born in Britain, Erskine had developed as a major architectural figure in his adopted homeland of Sweden, gaining a reputation for well-designed housing schemes that were sensitively adapted to site, climate and community. When Erskine was appointed architect for the massive Byker redevelopment project in 1968, the Newcastle city authorities intentionally embarked on a … progressive policy of urban redevelopment, but it is doubtful whether they had any real inkling of where this appointment would lead.

What the Newcastle city fathers got for their good intentions was a mini-revolution in urban redevelopment. Erskine stood the standard redevelopment process on its head, involving the residents as partners and forging a strong bond between the community and the designers. Erskine’s partner, Vernon Gracie, lived on-site for many years during the rebuilding process in a flat above the drawing office set up in an old corner store, previously a funeral parlour, which became as much a community resource space as a professional drawing office. In this programme of urban redevelopment that lasted for fourteen years, Erskine and his team showed what could be done when urban designers took community values seriously. Suddenly there was a real alternative to the standard urban renewal procedures that had devastated so many communities. Erskine’s design team evolved a new process, and they also derived an architecture that was contemporary in its details but which grew from an understanding of the traditional pedestrian scale of urban space.”

About David Walters

Design First

Designing Community

Charrettes, Master Plans and Form-based Codes
David Walters
2007 Architecture Press

Design First

Design First

Design-based Planning for Communities
David Walters &
Linda Luise Brown
2004 Architecture Press

Copyright ©2007 David Walters. All Rights Reserved.