Burdus Access Management


Newcastle Gateshead Quayside

ACCESS 'CASE STUDY' THE SAGE GATESHEAD Royal Institute of British Architects Inclusive Building of the Year 2005.

The Sage Gateshead is the stunning £70 million home for live music and musical discovery, learning and participation designed by Foster & Partners Architects. It is the base for the Northern Sinfonia and Folkworks, consisting of two performance spaces of acoustic excellence, a rehearsal space and a 25-room Music Education Centre.

A covered concourse along the waterfront links the four separate enitities and offers amazing views out onto the Tyne. The entire complex is sheltered beneath a broad, enveloping stainless steel roof that is 'shrink-wrapped' around the buildings beneath.

The capital building project is funded by the Arts Council Lottery Fund, Gateshead Council, ONE NorthEast and the European Regional Development Fund.


The SAGE Gateshead was selected for this prestigious award because it:

  1. Placed people at the heart of the design process, management and operation of the building
  2. Demonstrated that good design results in environments that are safe, convenient and enjoyable to use by people, regardless of disability, age or gender"
  3. Made ‘genuine’ advances in the understanding of and delivery of accessibility for all
  4. Addressed design developments of interest to the ‘Industry’
  5. Took inclusion into the management domain, extending accessibility beyond design (ticket pricing, provision of mobility aids, free performances and the public can sit in on rehearsals)
  6. Had access consultancy on the project from inception to completion
  7. Building layout and wayfinding is simple enabling exemplary accessibility for people with mobility impairments
Access panel site visits


Burdus Access Management were engaged to service the Sage Access Panel and represent panel views at Design Team.

During the design and construction period there were 14 panel meetings and 4 site visits. The panel had a significant influence on the design of:

  • Means of escape
  • Passenger lifts
  • Toilets
  • Manifestation to glass
  • Stairs

One member, Clarence Adoo, the Northern Sinfonia Education Animateur uses a powered wheelchair operated by chin and mouth controls. Clarence’s input to the design was vital to maximise his independent access to the building, including parking, toilets, power door opening and lifts, which has had direct benefits for other mobility impaired visitors to the building.

Sage Gateshead manifestation and handrail nipple


Significantly, the Access Panel established stainless steel against a matt black finish does provide an acceptable colour and tonal contrast for vision impaired people. This was long before research published the same findings using scientifically measured light reflectance.

This evidence-based finding was particularly useful for the visual definition of:

  1. Step nosings to step treads
  2. Handles to doors
  3. Counter edges

Wayfinding features also include:

  1. Tactile symbols on stair handrails, passenger lift handrail
  2. The use of raised and brailled signage in the music school
  3. Wayfinding lights on stairs
Low level lift alarm call and accessible emergency alarm call units in refuges


The communication aid strategy included:

  1. Infra-red communication aids to performance spaces
  2. Induction loops at service points
  3. Assistance calls to all WCs
  4. Visual fire alarms
  5. Accessible call points to refuge spaces with inductive coils, raised and brailled, stiking visibility, palm push call buttons
  6. Minicom?
  7. A second low level alarm buttons in lift cars at 150mm above floor level
Intelligent lifts and power assisted door openers


Final provision included the following inclusive desgin elements:

  • Large passenger lifts suitable for evacuation of disabled people
  • ‘Intelligent lifts’ that can communicate with Possum systems
  • Large unisex toilet cubicles with auto wash WCs, shower, bench change and hoists to cater for people who have personal assistants and use large powered wheelchairs
  • Low level sinks, toilets and handrails for smaller people and children
  • Powered stair climber to supplement means of escape from the basement
  • Use of lighting elements in concourse for wayfinding


The Access Consultant, Burdus Access Management, was the first design team member appointed after the architect and worked on the project from 1998 to 2004. Important elements of the consultancy included:

  • Production of the North Music Trust Access Policy to be applied to the design team
  • Peparation of the SAGE access reports for the National Lottery Fund application.
  • The development of an early and close working relationship with the Architect and properly timed input to all RIBA work stages
  • Regular Disability Discrimination Act compliance meetings with the Client and Architect
  • Site meetings and snagging during construction and fit out with written reports, photographs and CAD sketches to the Client and the Architect
  • Final report including a detailed Approved Document M of the Building Regulations, ‘Access to Buildings’ compliance and departure record

The design had to be ahead of its time – particularly when planning the dramatic increase in space standards that hit the project in the form of the new British Standard (2001) and the Building Regulations (2004) for access, not to mention the upgrade in the Arts Council Access Checklists.

Important at RIBA stages C & D was to ensure that all reasonable detail design matters were anticipated in the cost plan so there were no ‘access cost shocks’ later in the project.

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