Urban Sciences Building, Newcastle University\

The living laboratory

The Urban Sciences Building is an inspiring new place for world-leading interdisciplinary research and innovation.

More than a lab

The Urban Sciences Building (USB) is home to the University’s School of Computing and research focused on the urban environment. It’s a place where ingenuity, sustainability research and social innovation come together to develop and test new technologies that advance urban sciences.

The ambition for the USB was that it had to be more than just a lab, more than just a classroom – it had to embody sustainability research. Working closely with the University, we’ve designed a real ‘living’ laboratory – a place that drives real innovation and fosters meaningful collaboration. Here, pioneering scientists work hand-in-hand with industry partners and the local community to create and innovate 'smart' digital technologies. The work being done at the USB is already making a difference to the way we live, both in the UK and beyond.

“The most impressive aspect of Hawkins\Brown’s involvement was their willingness to engage with the subject matter of my school, and the degree to which they sought to understand the dynamics of our academic community.”

Professor John Fitzgerald Project Champion, Professor of Computer Science & Head of the School of Computing, Newcastle University

Come together

The USB is located on Science Central, a new hub for science, business, living and leisure at the heart of Newcastle. The building welcomes the public and academics alike and has been designed to stand out as a beacon of technical innovation and civic pride. Externally, it’s striking with a high-tech glass façade system that enhances its desire to engage with the city. Science Square, a generous new piece of public realm, draws people into the ground floor where the public, technology and data come together in the forum space, café and ‘showcase labs’.

Creative collisions

There’s over 12,800sqm of teaching, research and laboratory spaces focused around the warm-toned timber-clad stair. Shooting off from the stair and around the lower levels are plenty of ‘creative collision’ spaces designed to promote engagement – after all, collaboration is the key to discovery.

Designed for the future

As occupants move up through the building the character changes, becoming quieter and more focused as research needs shift. Alongside the labs are the Urban Observatory and Decision Theatre. These spaces are used to process huge amounts of data collected by sensors positioned throughout the USB and across Newcastle. And because we don’t know what the future holds, we’ve also designed a ‘maker space’ for yet to be developed research projects.

  • Project Details
  • Working With Artists
  • Sustainability
  • Drawings
  • Social Value

Project Summary

Project Team

Structural Engineers: Buro Happold
Environmental / M&E Engineers:Buro Happold
Acoustic Engineers: Buro Happold
Cost Consultant: Turner and Townsend
Project Management: Turner and Townsend
Landscape Architects: BD Landscape Architects
Lighting Designer:Buro Happold


  • CIBSE Awards 2019 - Project of the Year - Public Use - Winner
  • RTPI Awards 2019 - Excellence in Planning for a Successful Economy - Shortlisted
  • Smart City UK Awards 2019 - Infrastructure, Data and Health - Shortlisted
  • Green Gown Awards 2018 - Campus of the Future - Winner
  • Blueprint Awards 2018 - Best Sustainable Project - Shortlisted
  • Education Estates Awards 2018 - Innovation in Teaching and Learning - Winner
  • RICS North East Awards 2018 - Design Through Innovation - Winner
  • RIBA Awards 2018 - North East Regional Award - Shortlisted
  • Constructing Excellence Awards 2018 - Building of the Year, Integration & Collaborative Working, Sustainable Building, Digital Construction, Off Site Manufacturing - Winner
  • Guardian University Awards 2018 - Buildings That Inspire - Runner Up
  • Offsite Awards 2018 - Best Use of MEP Technology - Highly commended
  • Lord Mayor's Design Awards 2018 - Sustainability - Winner

Working With Artists

Computing is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously; cloud computing, wireless networks and virtual realities make it increasingly hard for people to see how ubiquitous digital processes have become. This building was conceived as a space that creates, curates and relies on digital connections. The external envelope of the building provided a canvas to explore ways of highlighting the intangible nature of computation through art.

BigData: Self-portrait

The dots and lines across the glazed south elevation are in a sense a self-portrait of the University. They are the result of an artistic and technical collaboration between the University, Hawkins\Brown and Martyn Dade Robertson, a member of the University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, and graduate of the School of Computing.

The image, which provides solar shading, colour and depth to the central forum space and Science Square is based on a data mining exercise. The lines, dots and circles represent the information resources in the University's websites, and their myriad networks and layers of connections. It is a digital look in the mirror.


Punch cards were used to control machinery in the early 19th century and later carried instructions for calculating machines and digital computers. Science Central is a new district of Newcastle built on ground that has a rich cultural and industrial history going back even further than that.

'PunchcardPast' draws links between digital process and the site's history. The small dotted pattern that runs around the building represents a punch card carrying the following message, encoded using methods invented in the 1960s:



The ambition for the Urban Sciences Building was that it had to be more than just a lab, more than just a classroom – it had to embody sustainability research. It had to drive real innovation and foster meaningful collaboration. It had to walk the talk. The result is a real ‘living’ laboratory – a place where academic research is used to generate and test real-life solutions that benefit people, businesses and the city.

The Urban Sciences Building is sustainable to its core, so much so that the University’s post-occupation goals to deliver the highest standards of sustainability throughout the building’s operational lifetime couldn’t be achieved through a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating, the highest assessment of environmental, social and economic sustainability performance. Together with engineers BuroHappold, we developed a bespoke sustainability framework for the building designed specifically to drive sustainability beyond BREEAM with an auditable approach to developing targets for design, construction and occupation, proposing vigorous reporting techniques and innovative delivery strategies to ensure targets were met. The building’s sustainable design features include a bio-dome on the building roof that uses waste heat, water and carbon dioxide produced by the labs below to grow food for the café. The University has pledged to share performance information with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) for three years and to undergo comprehensive post-occupancy evaluations to improve the building’s performance.

We’re continuing to work with Newcastle University to fine-tune the Urban Sciences Building’s performance, using systems developed from the digital models used to construct the building. By developing a ‘digital twin’, a stand-alone digital prototype that behaves as the real-life Urban Sciences Building would, we’ll use a detailed understanding of data collected from the building’s sensors and micro meters to interrogate performance and develop new techniques that will benefit the University and the wider built environment.


Social Value

Our approach to social value goes way beyond architecture, it’s about improving the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing of places to positively transform people’s lives, all while delivering commercial value for our clients.

Our researcher Michael Riebel, with the support of experts Hatch/Regeneris, has revisited six of our completed projects including the Urban Sciences Building and applied a broad range of socio-economic metrics. You can download the case study here

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