Farrell Centre in Newcastle opens to public tomorrow

The £4.6 million project, part of Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, combines a public gallery, research hub, and community space


It aims to widen local engagement and debate around architecture and planning in the city, inspired by Farrell’s recommendation in his 2014 Farrell Review that every city should have an ‘urban room’ for local people to learn about the past, present and future of where they live.

The centre offers free admission to a programme consisting of temporary exhibitions, public talks and debates, workshops, activities and events for schools, community groups and built environment professionals.



On the ground floor a large entrance atrium has a sunken ‘bleachers’ seating area, designed for talks, presentations, and performances, while a new staircase and lift have been inserted serving the three upper floors.


The first floor has 150m2 of gallery space for temporary exhibitions, while the second floor accommodates three ‘urban rooms’ which provide multi-use space for talks, workshops, seminars and roundtables, alongside exhibits and installations designed by architecture studio CAN, exploring aspects of Tyneside’s built environment.


The inaugural exhibition, More with Less: Reimagining Architecture for a Changing World, showcases installations by four UK-based architects: Dress for the Weather, McCloy + Muchemwa, Office S&M and The Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE) at Newcastle University. The exhibition, curated by the centre’s director, Owen Hopkins, and assistant curator Lorna Burn, explores innovative ways to conceive, make and experience architecture in the push to reach net zero.


Architect’s view

SPACE Architects & Elliott Architects worked collaboratively with Newcastle University to transform the former Claremont Buildings, a historic Grade II-listed building in the heart of Newcastle, which had laid vacant for several years and fallen into a state of disrepair.

Although a listed building, significantly more adaptions had been made within the 1905 extension, and fewer original features remained, including the original façades on the ground floor which had been replaced with unsympathetic 1970s additions. As a principle, we looked to use this part of the building as the new contemporary entrance, which is mirrored to the east, creating a connection through the building and helping to further animate the entre.

To the south-west of the entre, a pedestrian forecourt has been created to allow people to gather while active frontages to the building help to draw people in, making it appealing and accessible to all.

Inside, a sunken seating space was created, (by opening-up a section of the floor into the basement), encouraging debate and discussion in the heart of the building in a prominent and publicly visible location.

A new, brightly coloured feature accommodation staircase bisects the building, drawing visitors towards the gallery spaces and urban rooms to the upper levels, reinforcing the key concepts of being welcoming, open and accessible to all. The areas within the building are layered, moving from public to private on the upper floors with the stair demonstrating how historic buildings can be creatively repurposed with a balance of contemporary intervention and sympathetic restoration.

A key part of the design interior involved exposing and restoring the original brickwork and fireplaces, which are set against the playful, stylised geometric motif of the staircase – a nod to the Postmodern era.

To ensure the building was accessible at all levels, a lift was installed within the existing lightwell in the centre of the footprint. Glass landing doors were specified, so that borrowed light was maintained and also allows the original glazed brickwork within the shaft to be displayed.

Our proposal seeks to implement Farrell’s philosophy by establishing an exemplar ‘urban room’; a welcoming, shared facility to serve the region and its communities, encouraging engagement and debate around our built environment. The design retains and creatively adapts the listed building, demonstrating how buildings need to evolve and regenerate, in order to stay relevant.
Chris Holmes, Director, SPACE Architects and Ben Elliott, Director, Elliott Architects


Client’s view

In a world defined by profound environmental, social and technological rupture and transformation, the potential of architecture and planning to create a more inclusive, democratic and sustainable world has never been more important. Rooted in Newcastle, but with a frame of reference that’s global in scope, the Farrell Centre offers a vital new platform for debating the future of architecture and planning, ensuring that everyone has a voice in this critical conversation.
Owen Hopkins, director, The Farrell Centre, Newcastle University


Source:Elliott Architects

Project data

Start on site December 2021
Completion date January 2023
Gross internal floor area 1,040m2
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Design & Build
Architects SPACE Architects and Elliott Architects
Client Newcastle University
Structural engineer Cundall
M&E consultant Cundall
Quantity surveyor Currie & Brown
Fire & vertical transportation Cundall
Landscape consultant Southern Green
Acoustic consultant Cundall
Exhibit design and installation (permanent) CAN
Exhibition graphic design (More with Less) Studio Ilka
Exhibition fabrication (More with Less) Raskl
Project manager Newcastle University/ Currie & Brown
Principal designer Newcastle University
Approved building inspector Bluekeep
Information manager BIM Technologies
Main contractor Robertson Construction
Annual CO2 emissions 13.97 KgCO2eq/m2
CAD software used Autodesk Revit 

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