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MEA House

A Grade II Listed Building in South Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Latitude: 54.9762 / 54°58'34"N

Longitude: -1.608 / 1°36'28"W

OS Eastings: 425189

OS Northings: 564686

OS Grid: NZ251646

Mapcode National: GBR SQ2.09

Mapcode Global: WHC3R.86J1

Entry Name: MEA House

Listing Date: 26 January 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1419279

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1

County: Newcastle upon Tyne

Electoral Ward/Division: South Jesmond

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Newcastle upon Tyne

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Tyne and Wear

Church of England Parish: Newcastle Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle

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Office building constructed to house multiple voluntary organisations together in a single building, 1972-4, by Ryder & Yates. Concrete and steel construction with brown-brindle brickwork and mirrored Corning glass cladding. 5-storeys plus basement and penthouse


Office building constructed to house multiple voluntary organisations together in a single building, 1972-4, by Ryder & Yates. Concrete and steel construction with brown-brindle brickwork and mirrored Corning glass cladding. 5-storeys plus basement and penthouse

PLAN: the building is aligned north-south and forms the western side of Ellison Place, straddling the street where it enters the square. The site topography slopes down slightly from north to south, therefore the main ground-floor entrance, which is located on the eastern side of the building, is set below the main street level of Ellison Place. The building comprises of a large rectangular slab block that forms the main accommodation and is surmounted by a penthouse. A curved auditorium projects from the western side of the building. A first-floor level concrete pedestrian deck, which was required by the city's planners, is incorporated on the east side of the building and connects to the city's elevated pedestrian walkway system, including a later ramp leading east down into Ellison Place and a later high-level walkway at the south end of the building that crosses the adjacent 4-lane Durant Road, which were both introduced later.

STRUCTURAL SYSTEM: the main slab-like element of the building is lifted above the street level and is suspended from deep beams that form the sides of the penthouse and span (at roof level) between three reinforced-concrete service towers/cores placed at the centre and each north and south end of the building. This Vierendeel truss arrangement allows the upper floors of the building, which are formed of concrete slabs, to be hung on cantilevered subframes from the penthouse beams with steel straps of varying strength, but uniform cross section. The subframes and hangers also carry the building's external cladding. This construction frees the ground level from columns that would have restricted the existing roadways and enables the building to straddle the road, whilst also providing additional support for the auditorium projection's roof

EXTERIOR: the building's ground floor is recessed and is of brown-brindle brick. The east side of the building incorporates the building's main entrance, which is located to the left of centre on the ground floor in a single-storey projection surmounted by part of the first-floor pedestrian deck. The entrance doors have been replaced and two flanking open-fronted spaces contained underneath the entrance's original overhang (the underside of the pedestrian deck) have been glazed and incorporated into the entrance hall and an altered interior space that is now used as an innovation hub. Ground-level support at the northern end of the building, which is adjacent to the straddled street of Ellison Place, is provided by a small brown-brindle brick annexe located at the base of the northern service tower that originally contained the building's charity shop. It has a concrete east wall incorporating a partly-glazed lozenge-shaped entrance, and a blocked-up window on the south wall facing onto the road.

At first-floor level (originally known as the mezzanine level) on the southern half of the building's east side is a concrete pedestrian deck that connects to a long pedestrian ramp that leads eastwards down into Ellison Place, and also to a high-level walkway that crosses south over the neighbouring 4-lane Durant Road and then connects to further high-level walkways. Both the ramp and walkway were added by Newcastle Corporation after the building was finished. The southern half of the building's second floor on the east side is a blank expanse of brown-brindle brickwork, while the northern half is composed of office space lit by a horizontal band of square windows set within aluminium frames lying above a curved concrete front. These windows and concrete front are replicated at second-floor level on the west side of the building, which appears as the first floor due to the topography of the site.

The two upper floors of the building are clad in rectangular grey-coloured Corning mirror-glass panes 6-rows deep and set in aluminium frames, which slightly distort the reflections of neighbouring buildings and the sky, and also conceal the internal floor levels from view. The glass came from Pittsburgh, United States and was inspired by Ryder & Yates' trip to the Montreal Expo in 1967 where it was featured on one of the pavilions. The penthouse at the top of the building runs the full length of the building and has a parabolic roof. Diagonal hangers are visible on each east and west side of the main roof flanking the penthouse and appear like modern flying buttresses.

The building's north and south end walls are of concrete and act as a cross-sectional outline expressing the building's suspension structure. The walls are faced in a glass aggregate resin finish that is struck to resemble fixed panels, and the south wall has been partly clad with three rows of solar panels installed in 2013.

A curved auditorium formed of post-tensioned brickwork projects from the main rectangular block on the west side and follows the curved western corner of the site; due to the topography of the site the ground-floor level is underground on the western side and only the upper level of the projection is visible. The auditorium's curved wall was originally completely blank, but a series of narrow vertical windows have been inserted in 2012/13, which are separated by thin metal fins. The auditorium has a parapet that curves upwards in front of part of the main block's second floor and conceals the projection's flat roof and a large, later raised roof-light from view.

INTERIOR: due to the high cost of the structure itself and the external finishes the interior was originally simply finished with painted-plaster walls and PVC tiled floors. The floor coverings have since been replaced mainly by carpets and laminate floors following the 2000-1 refurbishment, which are not of special interest*. The three vertical service towers/cores, which form an integral part of the structural system, contain stairs, lifts and services and extend through all the floor levels. The building's two lifts, which are enclosed within the central service tower, have been refurbished and are not of special interest*. The building is air-conditioned due to the building's location adjacent to the urban motorway and services are concealed underneath suspended ceilings.

The various floor levels originally had modular partitioning and incorporated committee rooms and offices on each floor. They have since been re-configured and partitioned to create a central corridor on each floor with offices off to each side, along with toilets and kitchenettes adjacent to the lifts, which are not of special interest*.

The ground-floor reception area/entrance foyer has been altered and is not of special interest*. However, the original steel dog-leg stair with curved half-landings, which is located at the rear of the entrance space and leads up to the first and second floors is of special interest and is included within the Listing; the stair's open risers have been filled in. Two further enclosed stairs accessing all the floor levels are also included within the Listing and are located at each north and south end of the building, both with steel balustrades and some sections having been boxed in. An innovation hub located off to the north side of the entrance foyer was originally a waiting room and office forming part of the Citizens Advice Bureau and was also latterly used as a cafeteria. This space, which now also incorporates a former external pram store, is not of special interest*.

The interior of the auditorium projection has been heavily altered and is not of special interest*.

The northern annexe originally contained the building's charity shop, but is now empty and unused and its interior is not of special interest*.

The penthouse originally contained a caretaker's flat, common room and a cafeteria, but is now composed of a series of meeting rooms with a corridor along the eastern side, which are not of special interest*.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.


In 1959 Mungo Campbell, a Newcastle businessman who had made his fortune through shipping, founded The Rothley Trust initially in order to fund his grandchildren's education, but it later expanded to provide grants for charitable organisations. In the 1960s Newcastle's urban renewal plans meant that many social service organisations within the city were going to be displaced by the demolition of their existing accommodation. In 1967 Mungo Campbell, along with the two other Rothley Trust founder members, his wife Esther McCracken, a playwright, and Alistair Fyfe, a Newcastle solicitor, established the MEA Trust ('MEA' is derived from the first letters of the benefactors' christian names) with the intention of providing a building in which voluntary charitable organisations could be housed together, enabling them to work more efficiently and in closer association with Newcastle Corporation and Northumberland County Council.

The project brief had developed over a period of seven years, during which time a well-placed but difficult site of approximately three quarters of an acre located to the south-east of the civic centre precinct was found. The land was provided to the trustees by Newcastle Corporation and the funding for the project was raised by the MEA Trust, although the corporation and county council provided an annual grant towards running costs; rent was to be set below market rate to enable the charities to occupy a city-centre building. The building was to form the western side of Ellison Place, which was originally a residential square that was later altered by the construction of Rutherford College of Technology (now part of Northumbria University) on the north side, a YMCA building (now also part of Northumbria University) on the east side, and the Church of Divine Unity and church hall on the south side.

The project brief was highly detailed and specific attention was made to the building's proposed location, which was on a wedge-shaped site immediately next to a proposed 4-lane urban motorway. The brief required the new building to straddle the existing street of Ellison Place with a minimum headroom of 15ft and also not to exceed the height of the neighbouring college. Provision for an elevated pedestrian walkway also had to be incorporated into the design, which would be connected to an access ramp leading down into Ellison Place and a proposed bridge crossing the motorway at the southern end of the building. 16,000 sq ft of office space also had to be incorporated with a flexible arrangement of three room sizes based upon an analysis of the needs of 28 potential occupants. A proportion of this office space was to be provided at ground and first-floor levels due to the special needs of some of the building's proposed occupants, with the balance of the offices generally being on the lower floors with easy access for the public as well as between the occupants. Shared accommodation requirements included a cafeteria, a common room, committee rooms, and a hall seating 200 people. Building costs were not to exceed £400,000.

In 1969 a limited competition was held and seven architectural practices that were either based locally or had local experience were invited to submit designs. Five entries were submitted and the competition was won by the local practice of Ryder and Yates in March 1970, the job architect being David Lonsdale.

MEA House was constructed in 1972-4 at a final cost of £622,468 and was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 1 July 1974. It was the first purpose-built building of its kind in Britain and the building gained a RIBA commendation in 1976 and won the Civic Trust Award in 1979. The building was refurbished in 2000-1 by Ryder & Yates' successor firm, Ryder, following which time it was re-opened in 2001 by HRH Princess Royal.

The firm of Ryder and Yates was established by (John) Gordon Ryder (1919-2000) and Peter Yates (1920-1982) in Newcastle in 1953. It is recognised as the North-East's leading post-war practice and has emerged as one of the few entirely regional practices whose work was consistently of a quality and innovation comparable with firms based in the London area. The firm was multi-disciplinary and included both architects and engineers. Peter Yates was a student of Peter Moro and also worked for Clive Entwhistle in Paris where he was introduced to Le Corbusier, whilst Gordon Ryder started his career in a teaching post at Durham University. The pair met in Berthold Lubetkin's office in 1948 where both were working on the planning of Peterlee New Town. Their wide-ranging work included private and social housing, commercial buildings, health and welfare buildings, and a number of exhibition stands at Olympia, London. Their work is considered to be innovative and was celebrated in a 2009 monograph by Rutter Carroll. MEA House was the firm's first major building in Newcastle city centre.

Reasons for Listing

MEA House, constructed in 1972-4 to the designs of Ryder & Yates, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Engineering interest: it has a unique and innovative design incorporating a Vierendeel truss structural arrangement that dispenses with the need for columns, instead suspending the building slabs from deep beams in the penthouse and cantilevered subframes;

* Architectural interest: it is a striking building with a highly distinctive character derived in part from its external form reflecting its structural system, and from the soft reflection in the mirrored Corning glass cladding;

* Accessibility: this was integral to the building's design and can be seen in the provision of an external pedestrian deck (incorporated to connect to Newcastle Corporation's elevated walkway system, which was added later), and the arrangement of accommodation on the lower floors of the building; a specific requirement for many of the occupants;

* Architects: it was designed by Ryder & Yates, one of the most important post-war regional firms in England, and represents their first major building in Newcastle city centre and one of their most prominent works;

* Degree of survival: the exterior is largely unaltered, and whilst the interior is plain and has undergone significant alteration in places, it retains its main stair, which is strongly reminiscent of the work of Berthold Lubetkin, one of Ryder & Yates' main influences and their former employer;

* Social context: it was the first purpose-built building to house multiple community service organisations under a single roof, demonstrating the growing force of the ‘third sector’ in the 1970s.

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