15th September Journal Column

By Stephanie Glendinning, Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean of Strategic Projects for Newcastle University’s Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

The BBC News website recently featured a number of articles about familiar landmarks on journeys that mean home is just a few more minutes away. You won’t be surprised to hear that The Angel of the North, with its view over both the East Coast Main Line and A1, featured from our region. There’s no greater site than The Angel of the North after a long journey home.

This prompted me to reflect on just how often the built environment is used to not only identify home, but to symbolise a town or city. We do it locally. In Morpeth, the clock tower. Durham, the cathedral. Gateshead, the Sage. And there are few sights a North Easterner will take more pride in than the Great North Run pictured on the Tyne Bridge but enough romance. Whether conscious or otherwise, built environment and infrastructure influences how people perceive a place, its economy and its people.

For example, in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa isn’t simply a collection of hotel, office and residential space. It is a statement of ambition, prosperity, and technical ability. There are many more examples around the world, from various points in history, of buildings and constructions that have symbolised wealth, fortitude and capability, such as, Hadrian’s Wall, The Empire State Building, and the Millau Viaduct.

There is already a great deal of the North East’s built environment in which we can take great pride and this week saw the opening of another fantastic addition. Newcastle University’s £59m Urban Sciences Building is the latest building to be completed as part of the £350m Science Central initiative on the former Scottish and Newcastle brewery site. The building will be home to the University’s School of Computing, and there is plenty of teaching, research and study space incorporated in to the 12,500sqm design. But there is much more to the building than meets the eye. Designed as a ‘building as lab’, it has been built not only to provide a world class academic space but to inform the next generation of urban sustainability. The building and its surroundings are themselves experiments that use micro-metering to provide detailed, real time performance data. This will be used to inform the future design of building services, materials selection, urban drainage, energy systems and urban infrastructure.

The construction process is something we can be proud of too. Not only was it delivered on time, on budget, but Bowmer & Kirkland’s use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the project has set new standards for the university in the management of residual risk in build projects.

The North East has a built environment littered with striking landmarks, great achievements and a rich history. With the Urban Sciences Building, we also now have a project that others will look to and study in the future as engineers, designers and researchers around the world seek to develop cities sustainably.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email Catriona@cene.org.uk