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The Catalyst

Newcastle, United Kingdom


October 2019


1 year 10 months




United Kingdom
Project achievements

The Catalyst is a ground-breaking, architecturally striking facility with a distinctive dia-grid, home to the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing and National Innovation Centre for Data. The construction started in December 2017 and was completed in October 2019.

The project team delivered the building six weeks ahead of schedule and £7m under budget, without compromising health and safety, quality or sustainability.

The Catalyst

Time lapse: Dec 2017 - May 2019

Did you know …

  1. BREEAM Outstanding – Recognised as an ‘Innovator’ and one of two commercial buildings outside London to achieve Outstanding against 2014 or 2018 criteria.

  2. Project has acted as a learning hub for project partners and wider industry members with live lessons learnt shared to influence design and

  3. Delivered innovatively six weeks ahead of programme and £7m under budget without compromising health and safety, quality or sustainability.

  4. methodologies in new developments.

The key to the success was the early integration and consultation with the client team and critical stakeholders throughout the two-stage tender and design development period, continuing throughout.

Built on the site of an old brewery and bottling plant, the site was historically a shaft-based mining site, with a more recent history as an open cast mine. The resulting foundation design had to accommodate natural geology, old mine workings and a significant volume of engineered backfill.

The site was also split level, requiring further civil engineering solutions to subterranean works.

Sustainability and innovation

The project incorporates SuDS [Sustainable Drainage Systems], in the form of cascading raingardens, a green roof and other pipe storage attenuation. The overall drainage system is designed to restrict offsite flow to a minimal 5l/s and has capacity for 1-in-100-year storm events, with a 40% allowance for climate change. It uses siphonic drainage, which is where water is sucked from the roof down into the drain at high speed.

The Catalyst is a great example of innovative design developed using BIM [Building Information Modelling] Level 2.

The project, with an extensive set of client requirements, required a collaborative approach between the design and construction team, as well as the clients' stakeholders.

More than just a construction project, The Catalyst was a hub for sustainable development learning and community engagement and support.

The collaborative working approach and focus on sustainable development has resulted in it achieving the sustainability rating of BREEAM Outstanding, exceeding client requirements, and achieved at no additional cost.

Innovation has been core to the development’s success from its concept. The building footprint required extensive design development in order to provide suitable floor-plate areas which, to ensure financial sustainability, had to include:

  • Publicly accessible lower floors – inclusive of café, exhibition and other rentable space
  • Private upper floors - inclusive of rentable, commercial space
  • Extensive public realm

An adverse 8-degree incline was introduced to the building so the floor areas increase as you climb the five-storey steel frame building.

Introducing biodiversity

The declaration of a Climate Emergency by Newcastle University challenged all project partners to deliver a building with improved performance, ultimately delivering a smaller construction and operational environmental footprint; assisting targets to achieve zero carbon.

The city-centre brownfield site had no pre-existing biodiversity. The Catalyst now forms a crucial role in creating a fully connected, urban, biodiversity-corridor, that will ultimately provide rooftop and ground level biodiverse environments for a wide range of flora and fauna.

The roof has an extensive green roof, encouraging wildflower growth and a habitat for insects. Early success was witnessed as a swarm of bees relocated their queen on the Helix site.

In 2021, The Catalyst won the Large Project Award at the 30th Robert Stephenson Awards, organised by ICE North East

Project Milestones

  • December 2017 – start date
  • October 2019 – completion date
  • April 2021 – winner of the Large Project Award at the ICE North East 30th Robert Stephenson Awards

What engineering skills we used in the project?

  • Civil engineering
  • Geotechnical/Ground engineering
  • Project management and site management
  • Environmental including carbon offset and mitigation
  • Design – BIM level 2 design

People who made it happen

  • Client: Newcastle University, UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing and National Innovation Centre for Data
  • Designers: GSS Architecture, Design North, Gillespies LLP, Studio Horn and Desco
  • Contractor: Bowmer and Kirkland, NG Bailey, JD Pierce, Charles Henshaw & Sons Ltd (inc. Levolux) and Beal Architectural
  • Other major parties: Turner & Townsend