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The Great North Build: A small town with a big purpose

Newcastle University’s interactive Lego exhibition looks for answers to society’s big questions

How does a city plan for a growing and ageing population? How can urban design improve the environment and what makes somewhere a good place to live? These are the big questions being asked as part of a major exhibition being launched by Newcastle University.

The Great North Build, taking place at Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock from 12 March to 14 April, will involve the public in the construction of a giant Lego town to explore some of the major challenges that impact on people’s everyday lives.

In all around 110,000 bricks will be used to create the ‘mini-city’ which will take shape over the course of the exhibition and whose size, scale and purpose will be determined by the public working with University researchers.

From youngsters experimenting with chunky Duplo houses, to expert architects and city planners, everybody is invited to tackle the big questions. As the Lego town grows, micro-CCTV cameras will capture its development, and visitors can even expect to be challenged by unexpected real-life planning scenarios such as accommodating growing businesses or coping with flooding.

The Great North Build event marks the public launch of the University’s new Institute for Social Renewal, which will be a dedicated centre for research into some of the biggest problems faced by individuals and communities today. The Institute’s new Director, Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE, explains the idea behind the Lego town:

“In our role as a world-leading civic university, it is our duty to make a difference to the world around us; not only to be a leader in thinking, but also in action. This new institute will try to bring the University’s research expertise to bear on some of the most difficult challenges people face, such as those of unemployment, inequality and opportunity.

“We thought that opening the debate, on our doorstep and to the widest cross-section of the community, would give us a strong start in identifying the big questions that matter most to our society. While we expect people of all ages to enjoy helping to shape their ideal town, we also expect it to be a thought-provoking platform for discussion.”

Research into the issues the Great North Build will raise is already under way at Newcastle University.  This includes: research into the viability of co-housing for the elderly ­ where private homes use shared facilities to create a better sense of community - and work looking at the issue of food security, where householders have problems accessing affordable and healthy food. The Great North Build will help to inform this research.

During the Great North Build, a programme of events and activities will also be hosted at the museum, from family workshops for building houses and towers, to seminars on issues including home ownership and inclusive communities.

For more information, please visit the social renewal website.

published on: 5 March 2012