Skip to content

Business & Economy

Vision for Newcastle £40m centre of excellence in digital construction is launched

The region is a step closer to hosting a pioneering £40m International Centre for Connected Construction after a launch event at the House of Lords.

Northumbria University and regional IT network Dynamo are behind the vision for the Newcastle-based IC3 (International Centre for Connected Construction) project, which would further develop the region’s reputation for building information modelling (BIM), virtual reality, smart cities and cloud computing.

IC3 is intended to be a hub for the global construction sector, researching and developing digital technologies and smarter working practices and applying them to the  construction industry. It will also enable industry, academics and the public to work together on the next generation of technological innovation in the built environment, and develop opportunities for exports in intellectual property.

More than 100 peers, MPs and senior trade, industry and education leaders attended the launch of the vision for IC3 at the House of Lords earlier this week (January 29). The event was hosted by Viscount Matt Ridley, a long-term supporter of the North East’s science and technology sector.

Speaking at the event, Viscount Ridley said: “The North East was at the heart of the industrial revolution – we virtually invented it, and innovation has continued to thrive in the region since then.

“IC3 is a really exciting initiative that continues the tradition and thanks must go to Charlie Hoult and the Dynamo team, Northumbria University and the BIM Academy for their incredible work so far.”

In responding, Charlie Hoult, chair of Dynamo, outlined the aims, intentions and achievements of Dynamo and the benefits a centre for IC3 would bring to the region. He said Dynamo, launched in 2013, quickly identified that the region was a global leader in BIM and there was an opportunity to exploit this area, and the growing IT/digital sector to create more jobs and boost the North East economy.

“People believe in British standards and the BIM Academy is working with companies and on construction projects all over the globe, including a huge island-building project off Singapore and on the Sydney Opera House in Australia,” he said.

“Dynamo has led on the vision for a £40m International Centre for Connected Construction, with Northumbria University, to champion the UK’s place in BIM standards, to foster further research and to galvanise exports of construction know-how.

“IC3 will be a global hub for connected construction, both physical and virtual. It is one example of how our Dynamo clusters can forge powerful collaborations for future economic success – and to change the trajectory of our region.

“In doing so, we have pulled together the Holy Trinity of business, academia and Government. Today we are raising our flag and trying to find people to work with us on this exciting project.”

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Northumbria’s vice-chancellor and chief executive, outlined Northumbria’s digital and architectural expertise and said the IC3 project aligned perfectly with the University’s vision for the future of the North East.

He said: “At Northumbria we are very excited about the plans for IC3 and its potential to be a world-leading centre for the digital transformation of the built environment.

“Building on core research strengths at Northumbria University, in association with Dynamo and other partners, IC3 will help establish the North East’s role in the global leadership and application of BIM as it evolves from its construction base to the wider idea of Digital Built Britain and beyond to international smart cities and data analytics.

“Northumbria’s role is leading edge, with our expertise coming from the departments of Architecture and Built Environment, Mechanical and Construction Engineering, and Computer and Information Sciences as well as the Digital Living research group.”

The last speaker, Northumbria University’s Professor David Greenwood, co-founder and director of the BIM Academy, said the vision for IC3 was as a global hub for BIM and digital construction – a centre of excellence. He said the IC3 project was a microcosm of the BIM Academy’s aims.

“Construction is quite rightly a key sector for the Government, but the IC3 would look beyond the way we’re working now – to smart cities and the way people use and interface with the built environment. It would pool the skills and disciplines of engineering, architecture, planning and computer science.

“It would also recognise the good work of other centres such as the National Innovation Centre for Data in Newcastle, the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry.

“The UK leads in the BIM sector and part of the IC3 vision is to glean best practice from around the world and bring it here to us,” he added.

Earlier in the day, a panel of high-profile stakeholders met for an IC3 briefing at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) HQ in Westminster. The meeting was hosted by Professor Lord Mair CBE, President of the ICE.

High-profile guests at the event who took part in a discussion about IC3, digital construction and Building Information Modelling (BIM) included Mark Farmer, CEO at real estate and construction consultancy Cast; Mark Ryder, Managing Partner at Ryder Architecture; Don Ward, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence; Helen Golightly, from the NELEP, and representatives from Accenture, Mincoffs and Newcastle College.

The IC3 will be designed to deliver the Government’s Industrial Strategy challenges of clean growth, future mobility, ageing society and artificial intelligence and data economy. It will also link into the Construction Sector Deal, launched two months ago by both the Government and construction sector, by helping to transform productivity, procuring best value, promoting innovation and advancing skills for the future.

The IC3 team is currently developing a detailed business case in readiness for a formal application to government for funding later this year. As part of this process, the team is keen to engage with organisations involved in digital construction to ensure a fully joined-up approach in line with government strategies and priorities.

It is intended for the IC3 to become a focal point of knowledge, using a hub and spoke model to work with and support other centres nationally and internationally. In terms of education and skills, the IC3 would help deliver degrees, Masters and PhDs, as well as apprenticeships. It would also deliver industry-led and funded ground-breaking research into the connected construction sector.

The partners are now working on a detailed business case to pave the way for a formal application to Government later this year to fund the Centre.