Derwent Tower

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Coordinates: 54°57′7.7″N 1°38′21.99″W / 54.952139°N 1.6394417°W / 54.952139; -1.6394417

Derwent Tower
The Rocket - - 87646.jpg
Derwent Tower
Alternative names Dunston Rocket
General information
Status Demolished
Address Ellison Road, Gateshead. NE11 9DF
Completed 1972[1]
Demolished 2012
Height 280ft[2]
Design and construction
Architect Owen Luder[1]

Derwent Tower (also known as the Dunston Rocket) was a 29-storey residential apartment building in Dunston, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom. Due to its unusual shape it was nicknamed the "Dunston Rocket" during construction (even before its official Derwent Tower title) and the name remained with locals throughout its life. It has now been demolished.

The tower was designed by the Owen Luder Partnership on behalf of Whickham Council, which controlled the Dunston area of Gateshead.[3] The original brief was for three high-rise blocks of at least 22 storeys, but due to adverse ground conditions on site the decision was made to build one tower, with the rest being low-rise blocks of two to five storeys. Despite the architect's advice against construction of a high-rise building on the site, the council were strongly in favour. Following many consultations and explanatory models of the foundations with specialists, construction of the foundations began in February 1968, and the tower was completed in March 1971.

Construction was complex because of the very poor ground conditions. The foundations were based on a sunken concrete caisson that was built above ground then sunk over a period of time. Caisson foundations are often found in harbour construction; being used in the 1960s for a local authority tower block was a first,[4] and the caisson became an underground garage area for residents.[5]

The tower had a very bold and striking appearance, unlike any other tower block or high rise building in the UK. It was of a Brutalist design[6] with lots of design similarities with Gateshead's "Get Carter car park" also a product of the Owen Luder Partnership. The tower housed two-bedroom flats up to the 10th floor, one-bedroom flats on floors 11 to 29. It featured in a 1970s advert for Tudor Crisps.[7]

Unusual features were:

  • Height (280 feet)
  • Unusual construction methods
  • Plan form change between 10th and 11th floor to accommodate building services including two 10,000-gallon water tanks
  • Flying buttresses from the ground to 5th floor assisting the foundations[8]
  • Unusual foundations including an underground spiral carpark (closed to residents for many years, due to repeated flooding.[9])
  • Brutalist form
  • Exposed elements of structure and services, i.e. flying buttresses from floor level and exposed water tanks.

The tower was in desperate need of refurbishment for many years, making it unpopular with residents and locals. It had been allowed to fall into a run-down state through neglect and lack of maintenance. Services breakdowns, lift failures, water supply faults were all common but were unlikely to be a result of the tower's design or construction methods. In 2007 Gateshead Council decided to relocate residents amid health and safety concerns over the already poor and deteriorating services.[10]

On 17 August 2009 the tower failed in gaining listed status on the grounds of it being a non-listable building. In January 2012 demolition began,[11] completed in September 2012.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Luder shocked by 'lynch-mob' attack on Derwent Tower". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  2. ^ Alastair Craig (25 October 2007). "Dunston Rocket could be demolished". nechronicle. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
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  9. ^ Martin Wainwright. "Another 'old north' landmark comes crashing down". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Go Ahead for Dunston Rocket Demolition". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  11. ^ "BBC News - Demolition begins on Tyneside's 'Dunston Rocket' flats". BBC News. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  12. ^ Sarah Scott (4 September 2012). "Dunston Rocket is finally demolished + GALLERY". Nechronicle. Retrieved 11 December 2014.