This is a piece I wrote years ago (but forgot about) in which I talk about how it felt to have the building that I once worked in – The NewBridge Project – demolished. I was going to write about my initial anger at the redevelopment of the area where my building once stood (Newbridge Street/Pilgrim Street in Newcastle), and the wider ‘masterplan’ for this space. I wanted to talk about not locally rooted urban development, about spatial injustice, of short-termism, and a disregard for grassroots culture. I wanted to discuss the way that capital circulates around the city, how it finds new niches in which to enter. But in the end, for me, the experience of urban change, of demolition and disregard, is intensely personal. When the earth in your city is drilled into, opened up and pulled apart it creates a physicality of feeling, of powerlessness in the face of capital that cannot easily be explained away. So I wrote this.
The piece is accompanied by Carl Joyce’s beautiful photographs. Carl documented the building before it was demolished as well as the artists who were moving out. You can see more of his work as well as the accompanying film called ‘Surplus to Requirements’ here.
What is it like to stand in thin air? What is it like to float in urban space?
I keep asking myself these questions as I walk down the street, as I stand on the street corner and look across at the empty space where my feet once stood.
The space where my feet once stood is gone but in my head I am still standing there on the fifth floor of the building which now exists only as a ghost. I can still see where the building started and ended, where the profile of the roof pierced the sky and where the walls met the grimy life of the city street. Now the roof rafters, the metal girders and the hundreds of bricks that formed the mass of the building are gone. The building’s insides have been turned outside, its metal and brick body lies abandoned, strewn in pieces, piled up, making a new landscape of waste, of architectural detritus in the centre of the city.
During the last gasp of our building I used to watch the demolition men outside my studio window. They stood with their feet on scaffolding, slowly chipping into the brickwork of the art deco cinema next door, pulling windows out and opening the roof up to the elements. At that time my feet stood firmly on the fifth and final floor of the building, solid as it still seemed. Then it was the demolition men’s feet that were standing precariously in the air – their feet only separated from the air by thin scaffolding planks. I would silently communicate with the men in waves, smiles and laughs. There was an unspoken understanding between us that they were coming for me next. In my artwork I was consumed with the building of buildings, and wondered what it would be like to take one down. Maybe a job is a job whether you put a building up or take it down.
And then, finally, they did come for us. Our building was torn down. A yellow machine came and unstitched the bricks from the mortar. The artwork that I left on the fifth floor fell to earth with the rest of the building. Timber lengths strewn amongst the bricks. But even after, when the land was cleared and reset, I would look across the street from the corner and I could still feel my feet touching the space where I once stood.