The National Clay Pipe Centre is an example of post-industrial industrial architecture – in keeping with the site’s former function as a shipyard. The main colour is grey – chosen I think to best show off the splatters of seagull guano.
The ‘workings’ of the centre are exposed: piping, ducts, wiring. All can be seen as you walk through the concrete corridors to reach various large boxy spaces. The experience of travelling the corridors of the centre evokes life on a space station, but with added tedium. The toilets are just above the boiler room. The incessant hum around that sector creates the charming air of an ageing car ferry. This ambience is heightened when the timed cubicle light goes out part way through your efforts.
The building is shaped into the riverside and it is entered, as it were, from the rear. The steel and glass facade looks out onto the majesty of the river Wear and, on a clear day, beyond to the North Sea.
The designers chose to expose all the machinery, but conceal the staff. The main office for the administration of all matters clay pipe is hidden in the core of the building: the windows do not open and the view takes in the loading bay and 2 overflowing skips. Some daylight is filtered through a tent of blue provided by a section of glass roofing. I think the young Dickens probably had a better view from the tanning factory.
Lastly, nearly every door in the building has a keypad with a different alpha-numeric code. I now keep a list in my wallet. There are prisoners at ‘D-cat’ institutions with more freedom than NCPC staff.