Architecture for Innovation

The building that will host the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and National Innovation Centre for Data is now rapidly taking shape at Newcastle Helix and is truly a building with innovation at its core. Jonathan Hunter from GSSArchitecture explores the lengths that the building designers have gone to create an inspiring and innovative space.

When was the last time you saw a triangular building or walls that taper outwards? The highly identifiable façade presents on all three sides meaning there is no ‘back of house’ whereas the tapered walls provide numerous benefits including the ability to maximise floor area on upper levels, whilst limiting the building footprint at ground floor. Despite the technical challenges, the tapered walls also provide natural solar shading and protection from the elements.

The building itself will house two National Innovation Centres working alongside each other in ways that are efficient, effective and complementary and by doing so will become a statement of innovation, bringing together academics and global research companies to partner with some of the world’s best technology and science companies, all with a common goal of turning ideas and concepts into real opportunities; converting theory into life-changing new products.

The new Innovation Centre, designed by Newcastle based GSSArchitecture, is certainly eye-catching but it is also a great example of innovation in action.

When was the last time you saw a triangular building or walls that taper outwards?
When was the last time you saw a triangular building or walls that taper outwards?

Innovation through teamwork and collaboration

Delivering this innovative building at Newcastle Helix required a seamless, integrated approach to design making sure that every discipline from structural engineering to interior design complemented each other with innovation, collaboration and flexibility at the core of the design philosophy. The team knew from an early stage that they needed to think bigger and more collaboratively to arrive at a design that was flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide range of future building users.

The design was developed through extensive collaboration with multiple stakeholders and consultees including Newcastle University, the two National Innovation Centres, local and national businesses, commercial organisations, specialist organisations like the RNIB, the Thomas Pocklington Trust, the Alzheimer’s Society and other research organisations such as Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre.

Consultations were aimed at designing a truly accessible, welcoming and inclusive facility that will encourage use and interaction with the widest possible cross-section of future partners. After all, effective engagement and interaction is central to successful innovation and the development of life-changing new products.

As a result, the design was developed around five key principles:

  1. Maximising opportunities in the landscaping and public realm
  2. Presenting a welcoming and inclusive facility
  3. Creating a distinction between public and private spaces
  4. Promoting collaboration between all building users
  5. Designing a simple, clean and distinct building form

Minimising the ground and first floor plan helped to maximise the public realm, inviting pedestrians into the site and promoting interaction with exhibits, events and activities. Publicly accessible spaces are accommodated in the lower floors, whilst the internal layout of the upper floors is based on a cyclical layout, placing collaboration space at the heart of the building with secondary and tertiary space radiating outwards. Quieter, more focused activities can take place away from the hustle and bustle in the crucible at the heart of the building.

Science Square - the minimised ground and first floor plan maximise the public realm and inviting pedestrians in.
Science Square - the minimised ground and first floor plan maximise the public realm and inviting pedestrians in.

Seamless Integrated Design

In order to be flexible, inclusive and collaborative the interior design strategy is driven by a principle of ‘discrete compliancy’ balancing specific needs against the importance of not looking like an institutional facility. The interior design is tailored to meet the needs of a modern innovation environment with collaborative breakout spaces that are fitted out with flexible furniture, human scale materials and an integrated wayfinding strategy.

'Discrete Compliancy' - how the designers have balanced demands and expectations of the building
'Discrete Compliancy' - how the designers have balanced demands and expectations of the building

The building is rapidly taking shape at Newcastle Helix and the integrated design approach adopted by the team will result in an innovative, landmark building that will drive innovation long into the future, helping people to live better, easier, healthier, smarter and longer lives. It will also help to cement Newcastle’s well-earned reputation as a modern city and one of the top 10 places in the UK to start a new business.

Article header image: Sunset reflection on the building. Photo from @bandkbuild / @bandkusb

Notes to Editor:

• GSSArchitecture, founded in 1879, is one of the longest established architectural practices in the country. With offices across the UK in Kettering, Harrogate, Gloucester, Milton Keynes and Newcastle; it operates across the whole of England and Wales.

• GSSArchitecture offers services including chartered Architects, Lead Consultants, Quantity Surveyors and Principal Designers, specialising in providing a fully all-encompassing solution for all projects.

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