A hexagonal structure with sloping roof, covered in red tiles which are now rather blackened. These are moulded in two designs, each repeated three times around the work, depicting abstracted cog and machine parts.
'Parsons' Polygon' is essentially a ventilator shaft for the metro station below, with the terracotta cladding made from the same clay used for Eldon Square's bricks. Supported by the organisations listed on its accompanying plaque, it was commissioned by TWPTE for its 'Art on the Metro' scheme.(2) It is the only Metro artwork that is sited outside a station and in a public thoroughfare and as such is not readily associated with the Metro below.
Hamilton wrote a comprehensive explanation of the 'Polygon's genesis and meaning. In it he refers to Parsons's lack of fame relative to pioneers such as Watt, and states that he wanted to reflect the achievement of this local engineer by using early drawings of turbine designs as a source. He said that the work is 'a mixture of restraints and opportunities' and is 'not a statue of the man, but a symbol of his stature amongst engineers and the world at large'.(3) The designs pressed into the clay are abstracted from Parsons' engineering drawings.
The polygon's architectural presence is heightened by its light red colour which Hamilton hoped would 'stir the curiosity of Newcastle citizens'. In 1999 there is some indication of 'Parsons' Polygon's future, as plans for Blackett Street's redevelopment mean that it may be removed.
Charles Algernon Parsons (1854-1931) was born in London of wealthy parents and brought up in Ireland. He studied engineering at Cambridge before entering Armstrong's Elswick works as a 'premium apprentice' in 1877. He concentrated on increasing the power produced by steam turbine engines and by 1887 his turbo-alternator was supplying electricity to Newcastle. The period was one of intense competition between rival engineering firms and Parsons became embroiled in a number of patent disputes in the 1880s. However, he turned his attention to ship propulsion and built the 'Turbinia', a small sleek turbine-powered vessel which could manage 35 knots with significant fuel savings. Parsons also experimented with artificial diamonds and astronomical telescopes. He died on holiday in the Caribbean and is buried in Kirkwhelpington cemetery.(1)
Details of Parsons' life and achievements are displayed in Newcastle's Discovery Museum, where the carefully restored 'Turbinia' takes pride of place.
Inscribed on paving slab nearby: PARSONS POLYGON / BY DAVID HAMILTON / A MONUMENT TO / SIR CHARLES PARSONS / 1854-1931 / CREATOR OF TURBINIA / MADE FOR ART IN THE METRO / SPONSORED BY BOSTOCK CLAYS / TYNE AND WEAR COUNTY COU / NCIL AND NORTHERN ARTS / WITH LJ COUVES & PARTNERS
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