The area outside the Discovery Museum, Newcastle has been transformed with striking new paving supplied by Hardscape and referred to as the Challenger Plaza – a new outdoor space that now plays host to a range of museum events and activities and was officially opened by the Lord Mayor, Cllr Hazel Stephenson in September 2016.

Historical tracks

The iconic Challenger 2 tank, built in Newcastle and donated to Discovery Museum by BAE Systems, is the focal point of the new plaza. Discovery Museum’s galleries and collection present the history of life, work and innovation in the North East.

The Museum is housed in the old Co-operative Wholesale Society building, Blandford House. Opening in 1899, it quickly became an iconic building in Newcastle city centre. Blandford House became a museum in 1978 and was re-launched as Discovery Museum in 1993.

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums worked with Newcastle City Council and BAE Systems to commemorate the Scotswood community’s major contribution to the history of Tyneside. The Challenger 2 tank complements the Discovery Museum’s collection and galleries that collectively present the story of Tyneside.

No battles over the brief – just collaboration

The site immediately outside the museum was filled with seating and plants so visitors and passers-by could rest and picnic outside it. Museum bosses planned that the plaza development would contribute to the life and vibrancy of the area.

Hardscape’s Design team collaborated with the Design Team at Newcastle City Council to visualise how the plaza would eventually look – being involved at the early stages with drawings and 3D visualisations really helped the process to ultimately help implement the chosen paving materials to design specification with great consideration and understanding towards the overall sloping nature of the site.

Carolyn Ball, Manager of Discovery Museum said at the time: “It has been our ambition for a long time to improve the outdoor space around the museum so that it is more welcoming for our visitors and so that we can take museum activities out into the open air in the warmer weather.”

Funded by Arts Council England and funding from Newcastle City Council, the Challenger Plaza was developed to view the iconic Challenger 2 as well as enjoy outdoor events and picnics in front of the Discovery Museum.

Paving chosen with precision

In the sights of the Council’s Design Team there simply had to be material durability, flexibility and an overall striking impact. Hardscape were able to offer a solution having supplied both Granite and Kellen paving historically to other areas of Newcastle over recent years. In this case the Challenger Plaza area was renewed with 1,000 m2 of Kellen Lavaro Wit and Rood paving laid in a regimented fashion with additional Royal White Granite steps, walls and coping units and Kellen Planum white ZVB sandblasted tree grills and Kobra Granite corduroy tactiles. All together a visually enticing Plaza area that really complements in contrast, to the old brick building that museum is housed in.

Subsequent manoeuvres

Since the plaza was introduced there has been a steady year on year increase of visitors of above 315,000 per year. The museum is bursting with interactive displays, which makes it the perfect place to learn and have fun. One of the favourite exhibits – Turbinia – dominates the entrance to the Museum. Invented on Tyneside, it is the first ship to be powered by a steam turbine. The 35 metre vessel was once the fastest ship in the world and her history is brought to life in the Turbinia Story display – setting the standard for a day out that is guaranteed to be filled with breath-taking discoveries.

The Discovery Museum is situated in the area of Newcastle city centre known as ‘Discovery Quarter’. The plaza development has contributed immensely to the life and vibrancy of the area. Over the last two years it has become a major cultural, heritage and educational quarter encompassing the Discovery Museum, the Centre for Life, Dance City, Tyne Theatre, Newcastle College and the new Discovery School.

Landscape Architects: Landscape Design team, part of Communities Directorate, Newcastle City Council; Contractors: Highways & Local Services, also part of Communities Directorate, Newcastle City Council; Paving materials supplier: Hardscape