‘The Armstrong’ is one of Newcastle University’s most iconic and prestigious buildings, intrinsically linked to the formation of the University. The Grade II listed building is currently undergoing a major refurbishment which will see it restored to its former glory, while ensuring that it provides students with facilities appropriate for twenty-first-century teaching, learning and research.
Steeped in history, the Armstrong Building sits right at the heart of the University’s campus. Lord William Armstrong, an eminent engineer and philanthropist, and benefactor of the University, had originally founded the College of Physical Science in 1871. In 1904, four years after his death, the College changed its name as a tribute to him.
Many graduates and friends of the University will be familiar with the Armstrong Building as it is home to King’s Hall, which has hosted numerous events and graduation ceremonies, including Dr Martin Luther King’s Honorary degree ceremony in 1967.
The Armstrong is the oldest building on campus. It was constructed in three main phases, as funds permitted, between 1887 and 1904. It was officially opened by King Edward VII in 1906.
During the First World War, it was called into service as a military hospital, becoming part of the 1st Northern General Hospital. The refurbishment project currently under way will create a central hub for Arts and Humanities subjects.
Rediscovering the past
During the course of the work, the redevelopment team, led by Newcastle University’s Estate Support Service, has been rediscovering some of the building’s past, uncovering fascinating features and original décor that had become hidden over decades of alterations.
Len Wilson, Head of Capital Development, explained the design concept: ‘Where possible, the team are reinstating original features and bringing the building back to its former Victorian glory.’
‘We are removing the many decades of alterations that have compromised the original design intentions and hidden or damaged its many remarkable Victorian details,’ said Len. ‘This requires a meticulous detailing of the work being carried out.’
A particular high point came in March 2014, when a well-preserved timber-vaulted ceiling from 1890 was exposed. The dome-shaped ceiling, with its intricate carvings, was part of the former Johnston Laboratory in the original Physics Wing.
Recent visitors will also have noticed the new Student Forum, which has opened up the campus and made it more light and pleasant for visitors, students and staff. Providing a picturesque open space, with landscaping and artwork, its creation has revealed the impressive south-east facade of the Armstrong Building that had been hidden for 60 years behind the old Museum of Antiquities.
The Jubilee Tower, directly behind the Student Forum, will become a new main entrance, helping to improve accessibility and visibility of the Armstrong Building too. A raised planting bed with seating and paving will lead to a new entrance to King’s Hall, where the new entry pavilion will have a vaulted ceiling.
Newcastle University’s Estate Support Service has worked with the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, overseen by Professor Adam Sharr, and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, to create the new vision for the Armstrong Building. It is a significant undertaking which involves careful planning and attention to detail.
‘The building is one of the largest in the University,’ said Len. ‘As a consequence, the development is being phased over a number of years so that it remains functional as much as possible.’
Changes to the interior will allow the creation of new and brighter teaching and research spaces, as well as spaces for public engagement and ceremonial functions.
The work will adhere to two key principles from the initial design study: ‘Rooms and Routes’. ‘The intention is to open up clearer and better routes to and through the building to provide a more accessible and more easily navigable building,’ said Len.
In the original plan, the Quad Wing section of Armstrong had a main circulation corridor running parallel to the courtyard. This will be reinstated, creating a more direct circulation route for over two dozen new academic offices and storage facilities.
The original layout of the Armstrong Building also featured rooms belonging to Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI), which contained a series of large open-plan laboratories. These spaces will be reopened to create a new foyer, lounge and reception room.
The most northern part of the Armstrong Building will see the construction of a new Harvard-style seminar room. Originally a large common room, the area will be divided by new oak-veneer timber-panelled partitions. Drama workshops, music storerooms and coffee bars will occupy the higher floors.
As the Armstrong refurbishment project moves into its next exciting phase, the University invites graduates and friends to help play their part in securing the building’s future. Newcastle University is founded on philanthropy and charitable donations are integral to our future too. If you would be interested in becoming part of our history and a benefactor for this project, please contact NU Advancement at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
published on: 3 August 2015