The new Urban Sciences Building will tackle one of the great societal challenges of our age – ‘How do we build cities people want to live and work in but which are sustainable for future generations?’
Rapidly growing populations are placing an intolerable strain on infrastructure and resources in many of the world’s great urban centres, leaving authorities searching for solutions.
Professor Stephanie Glendinning and the academic team in Newcastle University’s School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences will have an impressive research base to work from to try and provide the answers to this pressing problem.
The whole of the city of Newcastle will effectively become a ‘living laboratory’, providing the data to underpin key decision making on future urban planning.
Sensors and monitoring devices historically situated at sites across the city will link with data provided from the new £58m Urban Sciences Building to provide a detailed digital picture of life in Newcastle.
Rainfall, temperature, air pollution, energy use and traffic flow data are just some of the information scientists will collate alongside readings taken from the research centre building and wider Science Central site it stands on to enhance knowledge of urban life.
The ultimate aim is to help public bodies such as the city council and emergency services make better informed decisions.
Future-proofing urban development will mean emergency services will be better able to predict and prepare for crisis situations like flooding.
And the pioneering work in Newcastle could provide a digital urban sustainability template to be applied to other cities in the UK and overseas.
Professor Glendinning is Newcastle University’s champion for delivering the urban sciences building. She works closely with the project architect, quantity surveyor and engineers who make up the design team.
The centre will bring together under one roof the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences with all the university’s urban sciences specialists in combined research laboratories and facilities working to a shared agenda – digitally enabled sustainability.
“Our unique position is about using digital technologies to actually develop new insights into urban sustainability problems and also help develop solutions,” said Professor Glendinning.
“The big issues are how we globally manage the massive influx of people into cities, how we cope with increased population in cities, whether that’s migration from other places into cities or a general population growth.
“Cities are growing and there is a need to support more people in urban places but alongside that those cities are consuming more resources and they are getting more crowded.
“How do we keep the lights on, how do we stop pollution from becoming too much of a problem, how do we get people around without using too much resource?
“These are big interconnected issues and we see digital technology as one of the ways where we might unpick those big interconnected issues.”
The new urban sciences building will be designed with monitoring devices built into its component systems measuring power consumption, heating, ventilation, water use and waste management.
“We can look at those connections that are made between different infrastructures but also between the site and the outdoor environment and how those relate to each other,” said Professor Glendinning.
“It will be things like weather stations, air quality monitoring, there’s also a smart grid on the site.
“We will then be able to start posing questions of that data. So if it is raining, does that really affect people’s behaviour, do you have to manage the traffic differently, what does it do to air quality?
“If we choose to put a road in, does it have a detrimental effect on flood risk as we’ve paved over that particular section.
“And the big question is always who will pay? Our research will help us understand who the beneficiaries of a changing city centre will be and trying to work out how the beneficiaries pay.”
published on: 4 December 2014