A fabric structure developed on the same principles as a soap bubble will form the heart of Newcastle University's new Science Central externallinkresearch labs.

In these construction case notes we explore further the design principles that will realize an eco-friendly space for collaborative research later this year.

Client: Newcastle University
Project: The Key, Urban Sciences Building, Science Central, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
Partners: Newcastle University, Arup, _space Architects, Brims Construction
Works: Start July 2015. Due for completion end 2015

Design notes

The fabric structure – called The Key – will form part of Newcastle University's new Urban Sciences Building and follows similar principles to the giant bubbles made by children where they pull soapy liquid to create huge cylindrical shapes.

As Peter Gosling, Project lead and Professor of Computational and Structural Mechanics at the University explains, these principles offer significant benefits in construction:

"Given a set of fixed points, a soap film will spread naturally between them to offer the smallest achievable surface area.

"The shape is incredibly strong, so the resulting design is not only extremely efficient in terms minimizing the materials it uses but also very resilient."

Based on the iconic 'Institute for Lightweight Structures' building in Stuttgart, the roof canopy will be supported by a tri-star mast soaring 10m into the sky to maximize the natural light levels and reduce energy use through passive ventilation.

As Peter Gosling explains; "The fabric, acts as both cladding and support while being extremely lightweight. This means that we can keep materials with a high carbon footprint, such as steel and concrete, to an absolute minimum."

"What is really unique about The Key is that it will be the first time a fabric structure has been used as a working space and this presents a number of technical challenges for us around heating, lighting and insulation."

3D image fabric structure (5)
 Image by EYELEVEL

Construction notes

The new research labs have been designed by in-house experts at Newcastle University in conjunction with Arup externallink and _space Architects externallink and realized by Sunderland-based Brims Construction externallink

Andrew Grounsell, Associate Director at Space Architecture said: "By its very nature The Key is an incredibly innovative and unique project that will itself be a research tool to examine tensile fabric performance and demountability for relocation to another site.

"The end result will be a fantastic spectacle, creating an iconic facility that can be relocated to another site in years to come."

Gordon Mungall, Associate Director in Arup's Newcastle office, added: "The visually spectacular unique geometry, will provide an inspiring environment for the users and future researchers at the University."

Building notes

Newcastle University's £58m Urban Sciences Building will house the School of Computing Science, as well as an urban observatory and decision theatre, allowing real time data from the city to be analysed and explored, helping researchers better understand the interaction between the city's energy, water, transport, waste and digital control systems.

Once completed the labs will provide a unique venue for research – where not just the inside of the building but the structure itself is used for teaching and learning. The space will also be used to showcase the Science Central vision to business and industry leaders, policy-makers and local communities.

Professor Phil Taylor, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability, adds: "Science Central is effectively a blank canvas and an opportunity to create something truly visionary.

"The ultimate goal is to provide a unique environment where internationally renowned engineers and scientists can work together with policy makers, industry, and communities to test emerging technologies and find solutions to global urban sustainability challenges.

"This innovative new building is a first step towards this final goal and makes a real statement about what we are trying to achieve on Science Central."

Work on the building will start this month and it is hoped the building will be open and ready for business at the end of 2015.

About Science Central

Science Central is Newcastle's new urban innovation hub – a £250 million flagship project bringing together academia, the public sector, communities, business and industry to create a global centre for urban innovation in the heart of the city. Originally the Elswick Colliery, then later the production centre for Newcastle Brown Ale, the 24-acre site has been Newcastle's industrial heart for 200 years. Now the site is being transformed into an exemplar of urban sustainability, a 'living laboratory' where innovative urban technologies will be trialled.

www.newcastlesciencecentral.com externallink