Byker Wall is the name given to a long unbroken block of 620 maisonettes in the Byker district of Newcastle upon Tyne, England. It is a part of the Byker Estate which was built between 1969 and 1982 by the late architect Ralph Erskine assisted by Vernon Gracie. It covers an area of approximately 200 acres and is home to around 9,500 people.
Existing housing was demolished to make way for the new development - although some old buildings including pubs, churches and swimming baths were retained in the new design. The move to the new development was also phased to help try to keep a sense of community alive. The layout was designed to encourage cars to be left at the edges of the estate and public spaces were included to encourage social interaction. The area was landscaped with trees and gardens. The outer Wall was designed to protect the rest of the development both from the wind and traffic pollution (at the time a proposed motorway was due to be built alongside it). There is a huge variety of housing. The Byker Wall, which varies from three to 12 stories high, is the most well-known part of the development but there are also a lot of low rise and individual houses.
The block’s Functionalist Romantic styling with textured, complex facades, colourful brick, wood and plastic panels, attention to context and relatively low-rise construction represented a major break with the Brutalist high-rise architectural orthodoxy of the time.
Its innovative and visionary design has earned it many awards notably the Civic Trust Award, the Eternit Award, the Ambrose Congreve Award for Housing (in 1980) and the Veronica Rudge Green Prize for Urban Design from Harvard University. The Wall has also been placed on UNESCO’s list of outstanding twentieth century buildings.
In 2003 the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced a proposal to award the Byker Estate, of which the Wall forms a part, a Grade II listed rating as an example of outstanding architecture. In 2007 the Estate became a grade II* (grade two star) listed building.
The Byker Wall was also infamous as the home of “Ratboy” a juvenile delinquent who hid in its heating shafts when running from police during the 1990s.