Four and a half years ago, The UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA), together with colleagues in NICD (the National Innovation Centre for Data) started the process of defining and shaping what was to be our future home – The Catalyst in Newcastle. As the two sponsors of this new flagship building we were very clear that it needed to be something special. Special in terms of how it looked, but most importantly, special in terms of how it worked – for everyone.

From the very start, the teams from NICA and NICD had a clear set of expectations: to work together with colleagues from within Newcastle University, the design and build team and future users to create the best possible building. One that demonstrated what was possible in the design and operation of innovation spaces, a building that we could all be proud of that was as inclusive as possible.

Over the next three years, we found ourselves becoming a little bit obsessive, drawing upon approaches and ideas seen across the world ranging from the Ecosciences Innovation Centre in Brisbane, through Ericcson’s Experience Centre in Stockholm to Primark’s approach to fostering innovation and creativity in their international HQ in Dublin. At the heart of this was the involvement of members of the community who helped identify and inform what an age inclusive and sustainable building would look like. VOICE® members helped shape our approach to the overall design, wayfinding and signage, lighting and audio requirements, even what type of furniture would work best in the café area.

Our obsessive approach was recognised last Friday night at the Constructing Excellence North East awards. The Catalyst – the region’s first BREEAM Outstanding commercial office building, swept the board being awarded the prizes for Sustainability, Integration and Collaboration and Building Project of the Year. None of this would have been possible without an equal level of obsession, pride and commitment from all those involved at Newcastle University, the design and build team and members of VOICE®. Constructing excellence isn’t easy, but it’s certainly worth it.

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