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The lecture by John Sparkes on the urban renewal scheme initiated by South Tyneside Council in South Shields touched upon many themes. However, the most striking one for me was the notion of preservation of historical heritage and identity. As a great admirer of everything related to history, at that point I was quick to reflect on my hometown Baku’s ongoing urban regeneration of a former industrial site, where I had an opportunity to work last year.

Historic Tyneside

One of the regeneration schemes, discussed by John, concerned Holborn Riverside, located to the west of South Shields Town Centre. The site is a remnant of the former Readhead Shipbuilding Yard, which throughout its lifespan produced a handful of (approximately 130) qualitative cargo ships such as ‘Nigaristan’, ‘Baskerville’, ‘Empire Franklin’, ‘Sutherland’ and etc[1]. Tyneside, being one of the richest industrial gems of the UK, should be recognized and signified in order for future generations to experience the historical value this area carries.

Common Brothers tanker at Readhead Yard in 1975[2]
Baskerville Ship (courtesy of Kevin Blair)[3]

Holborn Riverside

Seizing this opportunity, IDPartnership Group with South Tyneside Council have proposed an urban regeneration scheme for Holborn Riverside, demonstrated by the masterplan below[4]. Currently, the intention is to create a high quality mixed-used neighbourhood, and retain the industrial heritage of shipbuilding docks. The architecture practice, along with providing affordable and sustainable housing, puts a strong emphasis on repurposing the remaining industrial buildings. Here, I would add that industrial buildings create “deep-seated mental associations for local residents, providing a character and distinctiveness to a neighbourhood”[5]. In fact, on a larger scale, Tyneside shows a rather positive attitude towards restoring its industrial past through current urban regeneration and identity revitalization schemes of Tyne Quayside and Ouseburn Valley[6].

Aerial view of West Docks of Readhead Shipyard
Holborn Riverside Masterplan (courtesy of IDPartnership)
“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are” – Steve Berry
Historic Baku

The ongoing urban redevelopment in Baku, as I mentioned above, establishes the future ‘Baku White City’ project. The area, designed by a joint effort of Atkins, Foster+Partners and F+A Architects, is located in the former oil industrial site, labelled as ‘Black City’ among the local communities. The name was given due to extensive gas, smoke and fuel emissions into the air. The local government has established the Black City in 1876 in the eastern part of Baku. It acted as the city’s industrial centre for petrol, kerosene and diesel fuel production and accommodated approximately 130 local and international-owned oil refineries. This industrial process intensified during World War II, when Baku supplied 80% of the Soviet Union’s fuel to the Soviet Army.   Black City postcards in the early XX century[7]

White City

Considering extensive air pollution and deprivation of Black City, local authorities have initiated ‘Baku White City’ project in June, 2010. It will establish an “architectural diversity, ecological compatibility and a considered integration of the new development into the existing urban context of the city”… “The grandeur of the concept and the professionalism of the highly considered work that was carried out places Baku at the forefront of urban design and planning, and puts it in line with the world’s leading urban projects”[8].

Baku White City Fountain Square (courtesy of F+A Architects)
Baku White City 3D Masterplan (courtesy of Atkins)
White City in its current state (courtesy of Life)
Identity and Heritage. Where is it?

An incredible piece of urban regeneration at first glance! An accurate combination of residential estates, business centres, public parks and leisure zones, together with a thoughtful public transport access… However, I believe there is one major drawback in this scheme – historic heritage preservation and identity revitalization. I would specifically pay attention on the following quote from the local authorities, describing the former industrial site:

“A piece of urban heritage from the first oil boom and the result of urban development from a distant past”.
Having visited the area on a weekly basis during last year, I have never felt a glimpse of the industrial heritage of Black City through any interventions, as it is non-existent. The residential apartments are entirely copying the French building typology, visually materializing the area into a Parisian neighbourhood. In terms of identity, it is lost, not entirely, but lost in the shuffle of these inappropriately included French houses. A foreign visitor would never realize about the rich industrial backbone of the site, as it is carrying Rem Koolhaas’s Generic City ideology.

So why effortlessly degenerate, when you could successfully regenerate?

So why merely deconstruct, when you could thoroughly reconstruct?


[1]Tyne Built Ships (2019) John Readhead Shipbuilders – History. Available at: (Accessed: 6 December 2019).

[2]The Newsroom (2018) Remembering the days of work at Readhead’s. Available at: (Accessed: 5 December 2019).

[3]Tyne Built Ships (2019) Baskerville. Available at: (Accessed: 6 December 2019).

[4]IDPartnership Group (2019) Holborn Riverside. Available at: (Accessed: 6 December 2019).

[5]Sijakovic, M. and Peric, A. (2016) Active preservation of industrial buildings: Keeping the identity through the change of use. Available at: (Accessed: 7 December 2019).

[6]Miles, S. (2005) ‘Our Tyne’: Iconic Regeneration and the Revitalisation of Identity in NewcastleGateshead’, Urban Studies, 42(5-6), pp.913-926.

[7]Our Baku (2019) Black City (Baku). [Russian]. Available at: (Accessed: 6 December 2019).

[8]Baku City Executive Power (2019) Baku White City. Available at: (Accessed: 6 December 2019).

Azizi, N., Razak, A., Din, M. and Nasir, N. (2016) ‘Recurring Issues in Historic Building Conservation’, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 222, pp. 587-595.

Birmingham, R. (2010) ‘Smash or save: the New York City Landmarks Preservation Act and new challenges to historic preservation’, Journal of Law and Policy, 19(1), pp. 271-305.

Forsyth, M. (2007) Understanding historic building conservation. Oxford : Blackwell.

Heintzelman, M. and Altieri, J. (2013) ‘Historic Preservation: Preserving Value?’, The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, 46(3), pp. 543-563.

Philips, R. and Stein, J. (2013) ‘An Indicator Framework for Linking Historic Preservation and Community Economic Development’, Social Indicators Research, 113(1), pp. 1-15.

Readhead, J. (1948) John Readhead & Sons Limited. Available at: (Accessed: 5 December 2019).

Rocchi, J. (2015) Six Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings. Available at: (Accessed: 6 December 2019).

Unknown author (1996) ‘Newcastle Quayside Regeneration’, Construction Manager, 2(8), pp. 8-11.

Yung, E. and Chan, E. (2013) ‘Evaluation for the conservation of historic buildings’, Facilities, 31(11/12), pp. 542-564.

2 responses to “‘De-‘ or ‘Re-‘: Generating historical heritage and Constructing urban identities”

  1. Adil, a stimulating post and thank you for presenting an interesting issue surrounding the ideas of heritage and the conflict in the re-designing of historic areas and the difficult issue around the editing of historic fabric in their redevelopment.

    Many cities in the United Kingdom face similar issues to those presented by John in Sunderland, with disused industrial buildings from manufacturing processes which have shaped the cities in which they sit but have become detached from the modern-day life. The re-purposing of these buildings for new uses (for which they weren’t designed) can often be expensive and frustrating and so leaves developers and local authorities with conflicting agendas.

    I guess it’s a question of which is of higher priority, the continued use of an area or the preservation of it. Often the use of an area creates further revenue for conservation and maintenance of historic fabric and therefore for me, it’s the extent to which the historic elements are retained and how they are presented to the users of the spaces.

    As John Pendlebury discusses in his paper titled ‘The Conservation of Historic Areas in UK Cities’, Newcastle City Centre is an interesting example of the conflict between conservation of Historic Buildings and the economic benefits of redevelopment. In the 1960s and 70s attitudes towards conservation were centred around a buildings intrinsic beauty with strategies reached in the 90s where developments were placed behind retained facades or designs using historical references in their imagery [1]. This can be seen in the more recent development of the Eldon Square shopping centre where existing shopping areas were redeveloped and combined into a larger scale intervention, snaking between existing buildings with minimal change to the streetscape [2].

    Often there is a conflict for designers around which is more important, economy or history and beauty (and the nostalgia that inevitably comes with those). For me, there can be no blanket approach to conservation as each case is so complex and layered so each one must be assessed and judged to ensure that any development is not detrimental to both the current and historical context of that place.


    [1] Pendlebury, John. ‘The Conservation of Historic Areas in the UK: A Case Study of “Grainger Town”, Newcastle upon Tyne’. Cities 16, no. 6 (1999): 423–433.

    [2] Desco. ‘Case Study: Old Eldon Square’. Accessed 3 January 2020.

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