£58m ‘building of the future’ to be wrapped in a web of data

A ‘portrait’ of every link and data point that makes up Newcastle University’s website will emblazon the outside of the new Urban Sciences Building being built on Science Central.

Created by Newcastle academic Dr Martyn Dade-Robertson, the design is a map of the website – a single point in time capturing every link and data point that a user has to navigate when searching for information about the University.

Reflecting the core purpose of the building – which from 4th August will become the new home for the University’s School of Computing Science and its 1,395 staff and students – it also mirrors the actual web of digital infrastructure which encases the USB.

Connecting walls, windows and fittings through thousands of sensors, this ‘intelligent’ building will help us better understand how to create more sustainable, efficient buildings of the future.

Dr Dade-Robertson said the “web of connections” also represented the importance of collaboration in University research.

“We conceive of the University in bricks and mortar but the virtual and ephemeral connections between people, places and organisations within and outside the institution are just as important. These connections represent an invisible university which is rarely seen.”

The Newcastle University Data Portrait was derived from the results of a web crawler – similar to the type of software used by Google - which trawls a website by visiting every page in a given URL and any external links to other websites.

Consisting of three, overlapping layers, Dr Dade-Robertson says the aim was to arrange the elements to give balance across the façade whilst creating something geometrically distinctive.

“I didn’t want a homogeneous pattern – like a piece of wallpaper,” explains Robertson.

“Instead, the final effect is almost as if the building itself is cutting through an invisible data network revealing its complexity on the facade.”

Building as a Lab

The USB will be the second of the University’s buildings to be completed on the site, following the opening of The Key building in 2015, and has been designed not just as a place for research and learning but as a research experiment itself.

Trialling new energy systems, novel materials and smart engineering, it is a key part of the Science Central vision to create a full scale demonstrator of urban innovation - a ‘living laboratory’ underpinning research to make urban centres more sustainable for future generations.

The £350m urban regeneration project, the largest of its kind in the UK, will also house the new £40m National Innovation Centre for Ageing, the £30m National Innovation Centre for Data, the £20m National Centre for Energy Systems Integration and £11.2m UKCRIC integrated infrastructure labs and urban observatory and the University’s £34m Learning and Teaching Centre.

Professor John Fitzgerald, Head of the School of Computing from its move into the USB in August, said:

"Fifty years ago, Newcastle University awarded some of the first degrees in computing.

“Then, computers were rare and big beasts; now almost every aspect of our lives depends on communicating digital devices.

“As hundreds of us come and go through it every day, Martyn’s powerful work on the glass façade of the USB will remind us – students, teachers, researchers and professional staff – of the scale, potential and fragility of the digital world in which we work and for which we have responsibility.”

The USB is a significant step forward for research and education in computing, because it links computing with other disciplines. New joint labs will enable students and researchers to better create products and environments that improve our quality of life and prosperity in a changing world.

Science Central is a partnership between Newcastle University, Newcastle City Council and Legal & General Capital. The 24 acre site is based in the heart of Newcastle City Centre and was once a coal mine before being taken over by Newcastle Breweries and more recently, the Science Central partnership.

Dr Dade-Robertson has used the proceeds from the artwork to fund further research.

As a result, he has been awarded a £240,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the Designing the Future scheme to fund a new collaboration between the schools of Architecture, Planning and Landscape and Computing Science.

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