I have found this research process to be an incredibly rewarding experience and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the class on such an interesting project. I think that 'Northern Visual Culture' as a research based module has been a real addition to my third year and allowed me to develop a range of skills that I may not otherwise have been able to attempt.
The timing of this module has been fantastic as it has allowed this year’s class to link our projects with research being conducted by staff in the department, which has allowed for a greater insight in to their research work. In particular I enjoyed visiting the Engage exhibition, both in Shieldfield and in Gallery North - Please see the 'related links' menu for further information.
When conducting my oral history interview I received incredible feedback on the exhibition and Norah described how many people had told her that they had reconnected with friends that they otherwise hadn't seen for many years - this really brought to life the impact that such projects can have on a community.
This sense of history coming alive, will perhaps be my enduring memory of the module and through my discussion with Norah I quickly learned how differently you begin to feel about a period when you are able to communicate with people and listen to their direct experiences of it. Although we have been studying Modernism in architecture since the first year of our course and are familiar with the severe attitudes of many modernist planners, this project really has helped me to grab on to and get a real sense of exactly how this period impacted people and their way of life, which was so often drastically changed.
In terms of architectural history, Norah's story elucidated just how small that time period was between modernist design becoming popularised as an inexpensive housing solution - from the 1956 Housing Act - which Norah describes, in her observation of the flats appearing 'floor by floor by floor', to the disaster at Ronan Point in 1968 and on a more regional level the corruption charges and arrest of T Dan Smith in the early seventies - that story of failed modernist utopianism.
There are certainly areas of my research which I would like to develop further given the opportunity and primarily I would liked to have gathered more oral history interviews, from a diversity of residents. I have been in discussion with Shieldfield Tower Residents' Group and have already talked with a further interviewee (A current resident, who speaks very favourably of the flats) who has confirmed that they would be happy to talk with me. I definitely wish to take advantage of this offer and would also like to use the opportunity to send letters to other residents, who may wish to become involved. Ideally obtaining further interviews from residents who lived in the flats after the initial opening. A member of the residents' group has given me some advice in this regard.
I also think the project could have benefitted from a greater integration between the narratives told by other students, reagrding pre-war working class housing and my post-war study. Although I have discussed this with members of the group and as we have all helped each other to develop our projects, there is certainly the material to achieve this.
Otherwise there are other elements that I feel could have been researched further, in terms of considering the broader 1960s redevelopment of the area, the proposed motorway plans and University development etc. However, having attempted to obtain relevant plans, it became apparent that they were all archived within the Civic Centre and seemingly very difficult to obtain, therefore I feel that given the time constraints of the module this would perhaps have been unrealistic to attempt.
My findings in the council minutes were one of the high points of my research - having found a lot of dead ends in my search for material - and it was a great benefit to get a picture of T Dan Smith's feeling on this specific development, outside of the many much quoted Smithisms. Having watched his discussions with member’s of the Amber Collective in their documentary, I felt it definitely helped me get a sense of the man who has had such a strong impact on Newcastle's contemporary visual identity.
Having begun this research process with a group consultation, which enabled us to develop our topics in relation to one another, I could not have been happier with the topic I selected. I have always been interested in this period and really enjoy working from primary resources as much as possible. I feel that this project has really enabled me to do this and through organising and carrying out my own interview with Norah, I have been able to develop these skills further.
Rather than working from purely textual or visual analysis I have been able to engage in a process which involves those much more intangible concepts of memory, experience and attachment - and this is an area I find infinitely fascinating.
8 years ago