Completed in 1968 by Sheppard Robson and Partners, Building Science is one of a complex of buildings realised at a time of expansion following the establishment of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne from King’s College Durham in 1963.
The building’s function as offices and research labs for material and building experimentation expressed the scientific and technological optimism of the times, hosting its expansion into the architectural curriculum of the School of Architecture Planning and Landscape.
In the years since, many of the cellular spaces have been opened up into design studios, with the research labs falling into disuse, marked by the endurance of computers with 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drives.
Pushed by expanding student numbers, the School launched a refurbishment project to update the building as a Graduate School for Masters programmes, procuring architectural services from its own Design Office - a research based design consultancy led by Adam Sharr with a number of PhD candidates - including concept and detail design.
The primary move of the refurbishment was to enclose a neglected undercroft and open up the long defunct ‘test chamber’ - a three storey space once used for experimenting on 1/1 scale construction elements - to reorient the building from the back lane and form a new entrance and gallery. Within the test chamber, the crane and ‘fridge door’ entry were retained as a reminder of the previous functions that gave the building its name.
The austere brick and concrete structures no longer matched the University's image, and so the design and detailing aimed to 'retrofit' a materiality that evoked the longer history of the University as a 'Red Brick' institution. Four key thresholds through the building were defined by the inclusion of a set of bespoke timber and plywood cabinets. The main cabinet, positioned within the new lobby to display student work, derives its proportions from Corb’s Unité in Marseille - with galvanised plant pots evoking the Unité’s distinctive roofscape - as an architectural in-joke at the entrance to the Grad school.
Delivered in collaboration with Design Office