The Sage Gateshead is a regional music centre of international standing, with approximately half a million visitors each year helping to consolidate Tyneside's position as an arts destination. The building forms the heart of an exciting project to regenerate Gateshead's river frontage. It lies alongside the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Tyne Bridge with its great arch, which is echoed in the form of the Sage's roof. The Sage provides three auditoria and accommodation for the Regional Music School, and also acts as a base for the Northern Sinfonia and Folkworks, which promotes folk, jazz and blues performances. The largest of the three main performance spaces is an acoustically state-of-the-art concert hall that seats up to 1,650 people. The second hall can be arranged to suit folk, jazz and chamber performances and seats up to 400 people. The third space is both a rehearsal hall for the Northern Sinfonia and the focus of the Music School. The school is accessible to children, schools and people of all ages, raising the profile of the region as an innovative provider of musical education.
Each auditorium was conceived as a separate enclosure but the windswept nature of the site suggested a concourse to link them along the riverfront. As a result the entire complex is sheltered beneath a roof that is 'shrink-wrapped' around the buildings. Containing cafes, bars, shops and box office, the concourse acts as a foyer for the auditoria and as a common room for the Music School, which is located beneath it. Back-of-house hospitality areas have been kept to a minimum to encourage performers to interact with students during the day and to mix with their audiences in the bars in the evenings. With its informal atmosphere and unrivalled views out across the Tyne, this has become one of the city's great social spaces.
David Jenkins is an architect, editor and writer based in the Foster studio. He is the former editor of the Architect's Journal and editor of Norman Foster Works 1-5 (all published by Prestel).