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Arup completes Newcastle research centre

The Key

A soap bubble has provided the underlying principles for Newcastle University’s new advanced research facility, known as The Key.

“Given a set of fixed points, a soap film will spread naturally between them to offer the smallest achievable surface area,” said Peter Gosling, professor of Computational and Structural Mechanics at Newcastle University and leading the project.

“It follows similar principles to the giant bubbles children make where they pull the soap to create these huge cylindrical shapes.

“But more than that, the shape is also incredibly strong, so the resulting design is not only extremely efficient in terms of minimising the materials it uses but also very resilient.”

Constructed with minimal material and rapid construction techniques, the triple skin fabric and timber clad structure has a curved ceiling space that reaches to 18m.

“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. So the structure itself will be as important as the research that is going on inside it,” added Gosling.

The building’s tri-star mast and triple conic forms allow for reduced energy consumption due to passive ventilation.

It will be used for university research into urbanism, sustainability and digital technologies. 

“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,” said Gordon Mungall, structural engineer and associate director, Arup.

“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.” 

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