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Work begins on experimental Living Building

Published on: 2 March 2021

Construction has started on a building which could transform the way we live.

Biotechnology in a domestic setting

The OME – an experimental biological house - will form a key part of the £8m Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE). A joint initiative between Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, the HBBE is creatively harnessing biotechnology to develop a new generation of sustainable ‘living buildings’.

Central to the OME will be a self-contained apartment which will allow HBBE experts to test and demonstrate these new biotechnologies in a domestic setting. We will be testing a wide range of technologies from new materials grown from microbes through to waste systems which generate power from the output of the toilet.

The microbial life (microbiome) within the apartment will be studied to better understand the influence of materials, surfaces and ventilation systems on the microbes which surround us – both to avoid harmful organisms and even viruses such as Covid-19, and to encourage healthy bacteria that benefit human health.

The apartment will sit above a laboratory, where processes will be developed to convert domestic waste including human waste, food waste, cardboard and plastics, into fuel, electricity, and other useful products.

Artist's impression of The OME by Assia Stefanova

A new field of research

“There is nothing quite like the OME anywhere in the world,” explains Professor Martyn Dade-Robertson, Co-Director of the HBBE at Newcastle University. “The building will create a space to develop technologies which are well beyond the state-of-the-art. We are especially excited by its location next to the Great North Museum: Hancock, which will allow for public engagement.
“The OME puts the North East at the heart of a new field of research and potentially a new industry.”

"There is a real sense of excitement at Northumbria around the OME, a 'Living Building' and very much the linchpin in our successful Research England E3 Funding Award,” says Professor Gary Black, Co-Director of the HBBE at Northumbria University. “It will allow us to apply the biotechnologies we are developing in a real-life situation rather than in the lab alone. The OME embodies the HBBE's research approach to harbour collaboration and build long-lasting research links between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities."

Human and ecological wellbeing

The OME, which will be sited next to the Devonshire Building on Newcastle University’s campus, will also include a prototyping and exhibition space, where designers, architects, engineers and microbiologists will work together to create large scale installations to demonstrate how their research can be applied at full scale within buildings.

The exterior of the building has been designed so experimental material samples can be easily installed for testing and whole sections of the internal and external walls can be replaced with new forms of construction.
The OME will enable HBBE’s researchers to collaborate with industry stakeholders on diverse approaches to incorporating biotechnology in the built environment, creating self-sustaining, regenerative, living buildings which benefit human and ecological health and wellbeing.

Work on The OME is expected to be completed in Spring 2021.

Launched on 1 August 2019, the HBBE is funded by an £8m grant from Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England Fund. The Hub is led by a multidisciplinary team across both Universities and is backed by 14 diverse industry partners. In under 18 months the HBBE has recruited 43 members of full-time research staff and has invested close to £3m on state-of-the-art equipment, workshop and laboratory facilities to establish an outstanding centre for research.


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