the key largeConstruction of an advanced research facility has reached completion at Newcastle’s Science Central. 

Newcastle University’s The Key, a unique tensile fabric structure, is now open for business.

Signalling a UK-first for this kind of technology, The Key has been designed as a permanent, heated office space, and highlights the growing demand for sustainable structures in response to factors such as climate change and energy conservation.

Arup and Space Architects worked in close collaboration to deliver this engineering design-led project for Newcastle University. The team used similar techniques and technologies that were developed by the university’s team for the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

Led by Newcastle University’s Professor of Computational and Structural Mechanics Peter Gosling and Dr Ben Bridgens of the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University, work on the building began in July 2015 and was completed last month.

Peter explained: “The Key is the culmination of 15 years’ world-leading research on fabric structures at Newcastle University and provides us with a unique, large-scale research facility as a result of detailed environmental and structural monitoring.

“The structure itself is incredibly strong – following the same principles as a soap bubble – but it is also efficient, using minimal materials and designed to have minimum impact on the environment. This means that what we learn from the building itself is as important as the research going on inside it.”

The building incorporates detailed environmental, structural and laser point displacement monitoring and is the University’s first building on Science Central – the city’s new urban innovation hub and an exemplar of urban sustainability.

An elegant, lightweight triple skin fabric structure, it utilises rapid construction and features a dynamic, single, open-plan interior space with a curved ceiling soaring 18 metres high. Its tri-star mast and triple conic forms extend towards the sky maximising natural light levels and reducing energy use through passive ventilation.

Peter added: “This is an iconic structure that represents solutions to a range of advanced technical problems. The quality of the internal space redefines the workplace.”

Gordon Mungall, structural engineer and associate director at Arup, said: “This has been such an exciting project to work on with Newcastle University and Space Architects. Together, we explored ways to push the boundaries of the material’s form and function, resulting in an innovative lightweight fabric structure which performs against stringent environmental criteria. It’s the first of its kind in the North of England to achieve the rigorous Building Regulation energy requirements – firmly positioning Newcastle at the forefront of cutting-edge engineering.”

Andrew Grounsell, associate director at Space Architects said: “It has been a real pleasure to collaborate with Newcastle University and Arup on this project from the outset – and is particularly poignant that it will now be a space for collaborative working.

“We have had to overcome several technical challenges along the way but the end result is a true spectacle unique in design and construction, which – with in-built demountability – can be easily relocated to a new site in its lifetime.”

Science Central is Newcastle’s £350 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.

A partnership between Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council together with Legal and General, Science Central is one of the country’s biggest urban regeneration projects and a ‘living laboratory’ where innovative urban technologies such as The Key are being trialled.

The Key will be one of the main attractions at this year’s Novel Structural Skins conference, which is being held at Newcastle University on 26-28 October 2016. Keynote speakers include Jan Knippers from the University of Stuttgart, Raul Fanguiero of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art and Arup’s Gordon Mungall.

The conference is now open for registration and full details can be found at http://conferences.ncl.ac.uk/tensinet2016/programme/ or email: tensinet2016@ncl.ac.uk