Newcastle rolls out the blue carpet for public art

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The Independent Online

Tyneside's programme of public art and architecture projects entered a Blue Period yesterday with the unveiling of an artwork-cum-public space in the heart of Newcastle whose main ingredients are blue tiles made of resin and molten sherry bottles.

Tyneside's programme of public art and architecture projects entered a Blue Period yesterday with the unveiling of an artwork-cum-public space in the heart of Newcastle whose main ingredients are blue tiles made of resin and molten sherry bottles.

The £1.4m scheme, designed by Thomas Heatherwick and funded by the National Lottery and the European Regional Development Fund, has had a rough ride.

Tony Flynn, the leader of the City Council, admitted the Blue Carpet was risky and controversial. "Some will say it's a load of rubbish,'' he said. "But you have to be bold, otherwise art in cities doesn't develop. People will revere it over a period. The same thing happened with Gateshead's Angel of the North.''

Criticism still simmered on the morning of the opening: why wasn't the Carpet bluer and why had it overshot its opening date by almost a year?

But the simple truth about this small project – a blip compared with the Millennium Bridge over the Tyne and the revival of Britain's second-biggest stock of city-centre Georgian buildings in Grainger Town – is that it reflects local skill and determination.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the unique spiral staircase linking the Blue Carpet to an upper level attached to a Holiday Inn hotel. The 30-tonne laminated plywood structure – the biggest of its kind in Britain – was made, layer by layer, by McNulty's of Jarrow, a boat-builder.

The Blue Carpet has notched up other firsts: the tiles, designed to last a century, are of an untried formulation; and the seven trees on the site, brought in from Germany and Holland, are the biggest live trees transported internationally.

Heatherwick's approach is aesthetically witty, but ultimately practical. The witty element is that the carpet of tiles seems to have been laid by a dodgy carpet-fitter in a hurry with a Stanley knife. The tiles ruck up around bollards and wall edges, and seating is formed of blue strips cut and raised above 4in-thick glass panels under-lit with multi-coloured neon arrays.

"This is described as a public artwork,'' said Heatherwick. "But in a way, I just wanted to create a nice place for people to walk through, meet in or sit and have a sandwich.''

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