Splashing About: Aquariums as Urban Design Projects

The month of October marks both World Architecture Day and World Cities Day (2nd and 31st October 2023 respectively). Not only that, but The Deep Aquarium at Hull is celebrating its 20th year of operation. With this in mind, Farrell project staff wanted to present some interesting features about aquariums that were built, imagined designs that never materialised and the ways in which they contribute to urban planning around the globe, based upon the material available within the Sir Terry Farrell collection.

Because who doesn’t love an aquarium?

The Deep, Hull (1999-2003)

The aquarium provided the central focus of Terry Farrell and Partners wider masterplan for the city of Hull. The objective of the project was to provide a catalyst for the economic regeneration of the city and the location for the aquarium occupied a former shipyard.

In the final design, the building rises at an acute angle to form an angular point directly above the spit of land between the River Hull and the Humber Estuary. Exterior finishes were chosen for their ability to season over time whilst looking aesthetically pleasing. Cladding choices consisted of marine-grade aluminium and reflective ceramic tiles, suggesting fissured rock plates.

The Deep, Hull by JThomas CC-BY-SA 2.0 <a href="http://http://<https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>

Visitor circulation within the building was also carefully controlled. Visitors entered the building and were elevated to the top floor before zig-zagging down in a continuous ramp through the various aquariums and interactive exhibits. The Deep stands out as a personal favourite Sir Terry Farrell and Partners attributed project.

But the real question is… does it look like a shark, a ship or an iceberg?

Biota Silvertown – London (1997-2009)

Whilst you may be lucky enough to visit The Deep, there is also material in the Sir Terry Farrell archive of aquarium designs that didn’t get the go ahead.

One of these proposals was the Biota! Silvertown Quays redevelopment, part of the Thames Gateway redevelopment region adjacent to Royal Victoria Dock, London. It formed one of the main public attractions on this site, which also included the Silvertown Venture Xtreme sport and surf centre.

Section and impression drawings of Biota! Item refs: TF-03798 and TF-03799

Biota was intended to be an aquarium based entirely on the principles of conservation, with each of the four biomes representing an entire ecosystem. The eventual building was given planning permission in March 2005 and was expected to be completed in 2008, but was unfortunately cancelled in 2009.

Pacific Northwest Aquarium – Seattle (1999-2001)

Moving across the Atlantic, pausing to marvel at what these man-made aquariums represent, we land at the design concepts for the Pacific Northwest Aquarium.

The Pacific North-West Aquarium sits on the waterfront at Elliott Bay in Seattle. It has occupied the site since 1977 and in 2000 Terry Farrell and Partners were invited to present a scheme with local partner architect Mithun to redevelop the aquarium across two pier arms numbered 62-63. The aquarium straddled two of the pier extensions, with one arm focusing on operational and administrative elements of the aquarium, whilst the other was used for public exhibits.

Sketches and working drawings of the proposed Pacific North-West Aquarium design. Item Refs: TF-08066/1

The shape of the aquarium was to resemble an open basin and contain a microcosm of ‘Puget Sound.’ It was intended to be an iconic structure in the Seattle landscape and hold a revamped exhibition programme. There appears to have been community opposition to the scheme due to its view-blocking appearance and future schemes did not involve Sir Terry Farrell and Partners.

Any Sir Terry Farrell archive related enquiries can be made to jemma.singleton@newcastle.ac.uk. Hope you make it to an aquarium near you soon for the buildings as well as the fishes.

Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously loaned to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. A catalogue is due to be made available to the public at the end of 2023. All rights held by The Terry Farrell Foundation. 

Let’s Get Digital: Working with Born-digital Objects

As a part of my Museum Studies MA student placement, I spent the summer semester of 2023 working with Newcastle University Special Collections. My work focused on the Sir Terry Farrell Archive, using born-digital materials from the collection to create an online exhibition. I chose to focus the theme of this exhibition around the redesign and restoration of the Great North Museum, formerly the Hancock Museum, which was completed in 2009.

Graphic of southern view of GNM. Copyright: TF-2022-11-22-015, SOUTH LIGHTING VIS 02.jpg, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly loaned by The Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

What’s in an Archive?

When someone mentions archives, you might imagine famous library scenes in films, such as Nicholas Cage plotting to steal the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure or Rachel Weisz playing an adventurous librarian at the Cairo Museum of Antiquities in The Mummy. While normal archival research doesn’t typically lead to the more action-packed moments featured on the big screen, it can uncover new and surprising information.

Archives are collections which contain documents, pictures, and other small historic artefacts. Born-digital materials are documents that are created digitally. As technology advances, they are being added to archival collections alongside physical collections. This includes emails, document scans, and even digital artwork/renderings. The Sir Terry Farrell collection includes both physical and born-digital items. Having worked with physical collections in the past, I was excited to use this opportunity to explore the digital materials available and see how working with born-digital objects compares with physical ones.

Kara working at the Special Collections Research Reserve. Photograph taken by Jemma Singleton.

Sir Terry Farrell & the Collection

In 2021 Newcastle University Special Collections began a two-year project to catalogue the extensive archive of the postmodern architect and urban planner Sir Terry Farrell. Sir Terry Farrell grew up and studied in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he received a degree in Architecture from King’s College (now Newcastle University).

Farrell’s collection, which he gave as a long-term loan to the university, includes thousands of items relating to the creation of his iconic designs such as the MI6 Building in London, the Embankment Place development above Charing Cross station, and the Beijing South Station in China. While part of this collection is made up of physical objects and documents, it also includes a significant number of born-digital items including digital photographs, project documentation, and online correspondence.

Drawing of GNM long barrel section view. Copyright: TF-2022-12-05-005, LONG SECTION barrel.jpg, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly loaned by The Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

Working with Digital vs. Physical Collections

Born-digital archives contain all sizes and types of documents. In architectural collections, such as the Sir Terry Farrell Collection, physical blueprints can run large. I’ve seen blueprints that, when fully open, take up the length of nearly a whole conference table. With so many design variations, there can be multiple versions of the same blueprints for a single site. Digital files allow researchers easier ways to see these documents while also showing the more detailed aspects of the documents and taking up less physical space.

Physical archives can remain safely in storage and be maintained through conservation. Digitized files require periodic updates to keep them accessible for viewing. Some documents can’t be adapted if they were created on older versions of software. If they can be converted, they may not appear in their original format. Those that can’t are at risk of being lost forever.

Special Collections Research Reserve. Photograph taken by Kara Anderson.

Physical archival documents can be fragile and need protection through conservation. Digital files don’t need conserving in the same way as physical documents. There is no need to patch up tears or glue things back together, but they do require file format transformations to be kept accessible. CAD drawings (Computer-Aided Designs) often use proprietary software. The use of proprietary software in files, like CAD drawings, can make them inaccessible once archived and require specialist software to access them. They will also need to have copies kept for preservation in the form of jpg/tiff/pdf files. These transformations can take up significant amounts of storage space. For archivists, this may be problematic as their future work will require them to make sure that files are always up to date. For researchers, such as myself, it may mean that there is a limit to what we can access. At the rate that technology is improving, digital collections will have to be constantly maintained to preserve them for future use.

Aerial digital rendering of GNM from Claremont Rd side. Copyright: TF-2022-12-05-005, aero02_no pattern.jpg, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly loaned by The Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

I truly enjoyed my time at the Special Collections Reserve. This project was a great way to learn more about working with born-digital materials in addition to learning more about archival research. I have seen how archivists are handling the addition of born-digital archives to their collections and what it means for how they’re preparing to accommodate future collections. How to best preserve these digital archives is still a concern, but they also present a new challenge for archivists and researchers in how they will approach collections work as future technology develops.

This blog post and accompanying digital exhibition, Making a Museum: Creating the Great North Museum (Hancock), have been created for Newcastle University Special Collections by Kara Anderson as part of the Newcastle University Museum Studies MA placement programme. Images used in this blog post have been used with the permissions of Farrells and uses material kindly loaned by the Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

Career Development Placement at the Farrell Archive

I began my career placement module with the Sir Terry Farrell archive collection in December 2022. Having never visited an archive before I was initially unsure what to expect. The image in my mind was a labyrinth of imposing metal shelves and dusty manuscripts veiled within grey boxes, untouched by human life for years. This image would prove to be somewhat of an exaggeration; over the course of my placement I would learn to navigate this dense realm of crumpled documents, confusing cataloguing formats and incessant repackaging. In doing so I learnt a lot about my degree, the workplace and the utility of archives.

The Terry Farrell archive is held in Newcastle University’s Special Collections as part of their larger Team Valley Research Reserve. I was tasked with helping the project team catalogue and store a vast array of documents encompassing the architectural legacy of a man’s entire working life. Having been introduced to the cataloguing process by members of staff I set about working through various item formats. I initially started out with the tubes, primarily focusing on Farrell’s work as master-planner for the Greenwich Peninsula, London (2000-2004). I sought to systematically catalogue each item, likening my efforts to a factory line churning out a belt of catalogued and repackaged documents at a consistent rate. This formulaic approach would soon fall apart as I opened the tubes and began to peer through their contents. Each tube contained a varying quantity of documents encompassing a diverse set of forms. There were sketches, planning diagrams, photographs and concept drawings amongst others. I soon realised that each tube would drastically differ in the time it took to process and the types of information that could be catalogued about each. Focusing on each tube as an individual unit ensured that the detail of my cataloguing improved.

Example of drawing plan repackaging with original plan packaging.
Example contents of architectural plan drawings.

Having spent half my placement cataloguing tubes I moved on to the slides. These were 35mm photographs depicting various projects worked on by Sir Terry within the Terry Farrell Partnership. The projects included Seven Dials (Comyn Ching), (1978-1985) and early iterations of Vauxhall Cross (1989-1994), both in London. Working with a consistent medium that was much easier to analyse and repackage I found myself working through the slides at a much more consistent rate, more akin to the formulaic approach I had tried previously. However, this consistency did not make the task mundane. I familiarised myself with the light-box, allowing me to properly see the content of the slide. The slides were a fascinating medium because they were visually interesting, and they allowed me to see Sir Terry’s projects as they were conceived of in the real world rather than through the abstract sketches and drawings of the tubes.

Ching Court, Copyright: No Swan So Fine, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Example of original slide packaging.
Example of repackaged and catalogued slides.

I found working in the archive useful as it gave me an intricate look into how archives are organised and processed. As a second-year history undergraduate I have started planning my dissertation which will require extensive time in the archives hunting for primary material. I am already planning some other archive visits as a result of this placement. Experience with the Sir Terry Farrell archive has familiarised me with their inner workings which will no doubt aid me in my own research.

The Sir Terry Farrell collection itself is highly useful for anyone interested in researching architecture. As someone with a layman’s understanding of the field, I learnt a lot about the discipline and was fascinated by the archive’s diverse contents. For anyone studying architecture or wishing to conduct research it represents an opportunity to analyse the works of one of Britain’s most prolific and celebrated architects.

Conservation: You don’t want to screw it up.

This year World Architecture Day falls on 03 October 2022, and, as one of the cataloguers of the Sir Terry Farrell archive it seems fitting to write another blog where we can revel in some of Sir Terry’s interactions with listed buildings and the conservation process.

If you spend a small portion of your day indulging in architecture news to keep abreast of current trends… just me then… a key theme that crops up is a concern, maybe an aversion, towards redesigning listed buildings. The reasons for this aversion include, but are not limited to, the protective legislation around listed buildings of various grades and the extent to which, or how, they can be extended and modified. Restrictions may relate to the types of materials used, styles emulated, and building techniques required, not to mention which local authority is involved. It’s a heady mix to comprehend, regardless of if you are an architect wanting to demolish a listed staircase, or a member of the public who wants to refurbish their home.

Never-the-less, architects willing to engage with the listed building planning and application process do exist and Sir Terry Farrell was one of them. He appears to have been very engaged with the redevelopment opportunities afforded by listed buildings, and developed innovative solutions to satisfy building inspectors, local planning authorities, clients and contractors. Sir Terry Farrell appears to have had logical reasons for preserving listed buildings: if a building is still serviceable, why destroy it. The reasons are also sentimental: architects should respect rather than erase what they find on the ground because buildings are containers for lived experience and memory. By repairing and modifying the original fabric of the building, as an architect you contribute to the tapestry of living history.

Grey Street – Newcastle-upon-Tyne

To start, something a bit local to Central Newcastle; the refurbishment of Grey Street. 52-78 Grey Street was designed by John Dobson for Richard Grainger in the 19th century (c. 1836) and is currently situated within the Central Newcastle Conservation area with a Grade II listed status. In 1995 Newcastle City Council approved a scheme by Terry Farrell & Company Architects in which Numbers 52-60 were restored and extended to the rear and the facade of Numbers 62-78 was retained to provide a frontage to a new open plan office space. Early planning applications included an archaeological survey, and the Sir Terry Farrell archive holds an array of earlier material detailing historic research and early building use plans. There are also some examples of pre-existing interior detailing that are not just random pieces of wood.

Example of historic floorplan (c1920-1925) detailing use areas along Market Lane and Pilgrim Street.
Examples of interior joinery details and associated photocopies of joinery profiles for 52-78 Grey Street.

Most of the external façade of Grey Street had to be retained during the redevelopment; however, the internal reconfiguration was extensive, improving access throughout 52-78 Grey Street and redesigning the courtyard spaces between High Bridge Street and Market Lane. So, whilst the external appearance of Grey Street looks unaltered, the internal layout has been greatly changed. Just something to consider next time you are off on a stroll from Grey’s Monument.

The Royal Institution – Albermarle Street, London

Axonometric Impression drawing detailing key improvements to the Royal Institution.

The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 and is based in a row of houses designed by John Carr and built in 1756. A later façade was added to the front of the terrace in 1838 by Lewis Vulliamy.  The rooms behind remained largely in their original layout; they were poorly connected and, by the 1980s, were also run-down and confusing to visiting members of the public. Rodney Melville and Associates were initially tasked with conducting an Impact on Heritage Assessment which influenced the refurbishment plans based upon the Grade I listed status of elements of the building. These listed elements included the external façade, main staircase, lecture theatre, and ‘Conversation Room.’

Terry Farrell and Partners were selected as architects for the redevelopment of the Royal Institution project which ran from 1999-2008. In the final design, circulation routes were reinvented and the difference between public and private spaces clearly demarcated. The aim was to create clear horizontal and vertical connections and, at the same time, re-allocate what had become a jumble of different functions to logical defined spaces. The result was a ground floor of interconnected public spaces, with a basement level public exhibition space largely focused on the Young Scientists Centre, a first-floor lecture theatre and library suite, whilst third floor offices and laboratories were located on the top floor. The director’s flat was changed from the second floor to the fourth floor, replacing the caretaker’s flat. The listed ‘Sad’ staircase nearer the rear of the building was refurbished and extended to the lower ground floor.

Key to the straightforward zoning was provided by a rehabilitated rear courtyard of workshops which formed an atrium, and a new central lift component was installed and glazed over. This project demonstrates how extensive structural changes can be made within a listed building whilst appreciating its existing fabric.

Tobacco Dock Shopping Village – Wapping, London

This project comprised the restoration and conservation of a significant historic Grade 1 listed dockside building dating from 1818, representing part of the early 19th century expansion of London docks.  The project lasted from 1985-1990 and was completed in 2 parts; the first being the restoration of the original building fabric, and the second part involved the insertion of shopping and entertainment facilities and rebuilding the original dockside.

Restoration methods included the repair and the replacement of missing sections of the warehouse structure with fragments of the same type from buildings of adjoining sites which were threatened with destruction. Material from the archive demonstrates how remnants of industrial heritage around London influenced the finished appearance of the Tobacco Dock, and provide minutely detailed instructions for the refurbishment of salvaged material.

Instructions and photographs for the refurbishment of salvaged telephone boxes to use at Tobacco Dock.

There is also evidence of the ingenious decisions made to protect the existing structure of the building, such as retaining sub-soil moisture to prevent timber supports from drying out by discharging rainwater pipes below the basement floor.

As the above projects demonstrate, the archive of Sir Terry Farrell is full of material detailing how listed buildings can be sensitively repaired, retained and modified for their overall improvement. Unfortunately, there is no time to share evidence of the extensive communication that occurs with the planning application process of a listed building or conservation area. However, if you are interested in research matters relating to building conservation or other architectural interests within the Sir Terry Farrell archive you can contact the cataloguing project team, either Jemma Singleton at jemma.singleton@newcastle.ac.uk or Ruth Sheret at ruth.sheret@newcastle.ac.uk who will be happy to assist.

Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously loaned to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. Once catalogued it will be made fully available to the public.  All rights held by The Terry Farrell Foundation. 

Cartoons and Caricatures

Newcastle University is currently in the process of cataloguing the Sir Terry Farrell Archive, a collection of professional practice material from renowned architect, planner and urban designer Sir Terry Farrell. In amongst all the plans, correspondence and reems of project based material you would expect from an architecture firm there are also some more whimsical items. Namely caricatures and cartoons of urban features, people and the natural world.

Caricatures of employees often crop up in the collection. These caricatures entitled ‘The Tycoon Twins’ were intended to be hung in the company offices. They were created by Sir Terry depicting Stefan Krummeck and Gavin Erasmus, Directors of Farrells, Hong Kong. The correspondence note reads ‘I think the side by side pictures made them look as though they are arguing or not speaking, with the original option, one above the other, they look as though they are working together.’ The side-by-side option was clearly seen as being more effective.

Photograph of a selection of 4 items from the Sir Terry Farrell Archive, including a typed memo, notes and two drawing of caricatures of side portraits.
Memos and presentation options for ‘The Tycoon Twins’ (uncatalogued collection).
Two caricatures side-by-side, contained within 2 circles are side portraits of people, titled 'The Tycoon Twins'.
‘The Tycoon Twins,’ by Sir Terry Farrell 2008 (uncatalogued collection).

Other caricatures are less formalised and are dotted throughout the concept and design sketches, possibly as a moment of distraction or procrastination.

Stylised drawings also make an appearance in some project work. Here are some sketched images showing the historical development of the Hungerford Bridge District, London from 1669 at Hungerford House and the construction of the suspension footbridge in 1845. These were also displayed in the company offices.

Photograph containing 5 sketches of the development of the Hungerford Bridge from 1669-20th century.
Stages of development of Hungerford Bridge from 1669 – 20th century (uncatalogued collection).

Sketching on the move is a common theme that runs through this collection. Caricatures form some of the material presumably produced by Terry when he was on his various travels. These images were located in a peculiar folder titled ‘Train portraits’. Maybe someone you know has been unwittingly sketched by Sir Terry.

Aside from buildings and people, there are also some beautiful drawings of elements of the natural world which have been anthropomorphised. These trees form a series of artworks titled ‘The Old Men of Maytham,’ and include an Oak, a Beech and a Spanish Chestnut.

2 sketches of trees titled' Old Men of Maytham'. One is a sketch of an oak tree and the other a Beach tree.
‘The Old Men of Maytham,’ by Sir Terry Farrell, April 2010 (uncatalogued collection).
Sketch of a Spanish Chestnut tree, titled 'Old Men of Mayhem'.
‘The Old Men of Maytham,’ by Sir Terry Farrell, April 2010 (uncatalogued collection).

Material has been used with permission of Farrells. Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously loaned to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. Once catalogued it will be made fully available to the public.  All rights held by The Terry Farrell Foundation.