I was fascinated when I first read Geoff Manaugh’s post about New York City’s fake house. 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn has all of the appearances of a Greek revival townhouse but is in fact an elaborate façade for a NYC subway ventilation shaft.
This isn’t the only example civil engineering masterfully woven into the landscape. In London 23/24 Leinster Gardens were knocked down during the construction of the Underground and replaced with a replica fascias obfuscating the tunnels under the original house. London is the world capital of the art of blending architecture and civil engineering, with ventilation shafts hidden everywhere—from Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner to this beautiful column in Paternoster Square.
Many cities have vent shafts but having to disguise them as parts of the urban environment seemed to be typical only of architecturally-crowded metropolises with vast subterranean networks of tunnels, bomb shelters, service roads and sewers—places like New York, Paris and London. But the same challenges faced by the planners of the world’s most established underground transit systems were the same ones faced by the developers of the Tyne & Wear Metro.
You may not have noticed, but the Metro has a series of ventilation shafts which allow the system to breath deep underground central Newcastle and Gateshead. The relief shafts transport clean air from the surface into tunnels and platforms while simultaneously providing an escape for stale air. You’ve probably walked past them many times, but as a testament to the brilliance with which they’ve been worked into the background, it’s doubtful that you’ve noticed.
2 OLD ELDON SQUARE
This is 2 Old Eldon Square, Newcastle’s own fake house. The row of terrace houses are the only remnants of the original Eldon Square—the upmarket residential area of the city centre which was largely demolished to make way for the shopping centre which appropriated its name. This building was converted into a ventilation shaft to service Monument Station, which is more or less directly below.
It’s well hidden, but there are a few clues if you look close enough. Although the street looks fairly uniform, It’s the only house on the row with fully blacked out windows.
Looking at satellite imagery you can see that the slatted roof betrays its real purpose.
The annual 2006-2007 annual report of the Tyne and Wear Specialist Conservation Team mentions that the building was ‘originally planned by Thomas Oliver for Richard Grainger, with later elevations being drawn by John Dobson in 1831’ but makes no mention of its dual use as a ventilation shaft.
Just around the corner from Old Eldon Square on Blackett Street is Parson’s Polygon, a piece of public art commissioned by Tyne and Wear Public Transport Executive. This is the only piece of Metro art outside of a station–the reason being that it doubles up as a ventilation shaft for Monument station below it. The slats worked into the piece are a clue to its dual-use.
KINGS GATE BUILDING, NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY
If you walk past the new King’s Walk building on the Newcastle University campus at the right time you might be able to feel a sudden gust out of nowhere. If you look closely you can see a draught relief shaft built into the front of the building facing Haymarket metro station.
There’s another vent serving Haymarket just across the road, right outside of the station.
Although this is also a utility/storage building, you can see ventilation slats on the roof which evidence its use as a shaft.
A little further down Percy Street and onto Prudhoe Place inside of the new Eldon Square bus station is an octagonal shaft with a chunky LED stand occupation display board.
Sandwiched between Clayton Street and Grainger Street, behind the now-failed Newgate Shopping Centre is a multistory car park serving the Newgate Hotel. Straight down the middle of the winding spiral ramp to the upper floors of the car park is another Metro vent shaft! After Old Eldon Square, this is probably the most well-hidden.
NEW BRIDGE STREET
The NCP car park on New Bridge Street almost boasts its own ventilation shaft too. Just in front of the entrance at the corner of John Dobson Street are some fenced-off advertising hoardings. The ominous brick cuboid is another concealed shaft.
ST. JAMES PARK
Across the road from St. James Park on the other side of Strawberry Pl. is a ventilation shaft that errs more towards the creative than industrial. This brutalist example serves the St. James Metro station beneath.
Gateshead only has one subterranean station (Gateshead station itself) but boasts at least two ventilation shafts.
The first two take the usual form:
Gateshead’s third shaft is presently unconfirmed. It’s possible that this unusual structure inside of the Gateshead bus interchange is a ventilation shaft for Gateshead Metro station below.
Adjusting the angle of the satellite image a little bit gives a more convincing view.
And looking at a historical satellite image from 2001, before the redevelopment of Gateshead Interchange, provides further evidence. This structure was part of the old bus station and was incorporated into the design of the new one.