If you have been to the Newcastle Helix site recently, you will have seen that the Catalyst building is almost ready to open its doors. The striking black and gold building will be home to the National Innovation Centres for Ageing and for Data. We are excited to move in and, as we prepare for the move, I wanted to outline how the contribution of VOICE members has informed the building design.
One of the design team’s earliest consultations for the building design was with members of VOICE. The architects, GSS, presented the proposed building design to members and sought views on its layout. The group was clear that it wanted to see the Centre’s focus on innovation reflected in the building design and operation, which has been a priority for us throughout the design process. Concerns raised by VOICE at this session on how sound can travel to other spaces informed the layout of the break out areas and also influenced the team’s decision not to incorporate a full-height atrium in the building.
The insights from Voice members led to small changes in the building design, for instance charging spots for electric mobility scooters were incorporated on the lower ground floor. We added a drinking fountain on the ground floor, and the rake on the theatre seating was increased to allow for the fact that wheelchairs in the front row will have a higher seat than a theatre seat – an issue we would not have recognised if not for VOICE.
A key priority for the building design has been inclusivity. The design team has consulted charities and academic experts, and sought out examples of good practice. In this area, the experiences and insights from VOICE were particularly important. From stressing the importance of good hearing loops (which will be in all but our smallest meeting rooms) and non-slip surfaces, through to suggestions for audio- and braille assistance for the visually impaired, VOICE have ensured that inclusive elements were considered. Little touches such as felt pads on the bottom of chair legs and acoustic wall finishes are the kind of design features which may not be particularly obvious or visible, but which are included with the aim of making the building work for all users.
At the café and interiors workshops VOICE members stressed the importance of way-finding, in particular of needing to know on arrival to the building that they are in the right place. The front wall on entry to the building will therefore form a clear welcome to the building, with the occupants listed.
We have also developed an innovative wayfinding system, with VOICE members commenting through an online poll on the icons for the key public spaces. These preferences have been taken on board and where the feedback suggested that the icons weren’t quite right, we sought new design options.
Following the interiors and café session, the team has continued to meet with EAT to ensure that the menus are both healthy and offer inviting treats. The layout has been designed for plenty of space, allowing wheelchairs and push chairs through.
One of the biggest insights workshops that we held with VOICE was a drop-in session to test different styles of chairs, so that we can be sure our public seating in the new building is suitable. VOICE members came to the Urban Sciences Building and tried out numerous seats for all different spaces, scoring them on comfort, support and ease of getting in and out. The results were interesting and had a real impact on our final furniture selection:
In some areas, such as the café seating, there was a clear consensus on the preferred style of chair. This will obviously be seen in the new café! In contrast, the scores for the seminar seating – which needs to be stackable and light-weight for functional reasons – were fairly consistent across the options displayed, with the only stand-out requirement being a cushioned seat. For the soft-seating and sofa areas, your feedback showed that we needed to adopt a real mix of seats and offer people choice. Personal preference came to the fore here, with people having strong individual preferences for different seat styles and heights. We will therefore offer wide choice in this type of seating.
Unfortunately, due to practical considerations or the impact on other user groups there were some suggestions that we couldn’t incorporate, and other suggestions that we are still looking into, however where feasible we have acted on the insights we received. We would like the chance to show VOICE members the design more closely and thank them for the contribution with a drinks reception and tour of all levels after we have moved to our new home. Details to follow shortly on the VOICE platform.
National Innovation Centre for Ageing