Towards the end of 2013, Newcastle University announced an ambitious £50m project to create the smart city of the future through a combination of digital ingenuity and scientific expertise with social innovation.

The University has appointed London-based architects Hawkins\Brown, in conjunction with BuroHappold and BD Landscapes, to design a £50m ‘living lab’ which will be used to research, design and test smart-city technologies.

The ‘living lab’, to be built by 2017, will sit within a 100,000 sq ft research facility as part of Science Central – the £700m regeneration of the former Scottish & Newcastle brewery site in the city centre. Led by the Science City partnership, comprising Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council, the scheme will accommodate more than 1.8m sq ft of offices, residences, retail and leisure, and the research facility at the 24-acre site.

In December 2013 the University announced it would invest £50m in the facility to enable a 100-strong team of University researchers and scientists to undertake pioneering research on sustainability, urbanism and the digital economy.

The building is expected to become a test bed in its own right: it will incorporate technologies to monitor energy performance, and other ‘smart’ building management systems to keep track of everything from workers’ movements to security.

Crucially, the facility will seek to transform Newcastle into a ‘city of the future’. Researchers will work with the council, emergency services, water authorities and transport operators to collect data on traffic flow, air quality and weather conditions.

A control centre dubbed the Decision Theatre will gather the data to create a real-time picture of what is constantly happening in the city, and monitor it to enable fast decision making – for example, in the event of a flood, and longer term to adapt the city to, for example, climate change.

Putting users at the heart of the project, the leading team of engineers, scientists and digital researchers from Newcastle University are asking the public what they need to improve their everyday lives.

Using this feedback, together with information about energy systems, environment and mobility from hundreds of high-tech sensors across the city, the project will change the face of Newcastle city centre. Everything from transport and energy systems to the very fabric of the buildings will all work together to improve the user experience while reducing our carbon footprint.

Professor Phil Taylor, Director of Newcastle University’s Institute for Sustainability, who is leading the University part of the Science Central project said, ‘This is about taking a dynamic and ambitious city like Newcastle and using it as a test bed to create a world-leading example of urban sustainability that others can follow.’


‘Science Central offers us a unique opportunity to bring together internationally leading researchers, expert practitioners and cutting-edge equipment so we can tackle some of the most important global urban sustainability challenges facing society today.’

He explains that rapid population growth and climate change will force cities to be more flexible to survive. ‘Cities are struggling with ‘infrastructure lockin’, meaning their growth and sustainability is restricted by the typical 100-year lifespan of roads, buildings and other infrastructure. We need to create agile cities, and the living lab will test ways of doing this.’

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