School of Creative Industries re-designs University House

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Plans are underway to generate a Creative Industries precinct as a center for creativity and cultural production within the Newcastle City campus. The University House (UNH) building on the corner of Auckland and King Streets will play a key role in developing the School of Creative Industries (SOCI) presence in the CBD. UNH has a proud civic history, as a place of innovation and education. As part of the location of creative disciplines within UNH, capital works are required to adapt internal spaces to accommodate a range of new uses.

On Friday 31 March, the School of Creative Industries (SOCI) hosted the first in a series of co-design workshops to develop concepts for the refurbishment of University House (UNH). Paul Egglestone, Head of School for SOCI, initiated the idea for the co-design project.

The aim is for what follows to act as a unifying and motivating idea around which all our stakeholders - students, academic and professional staff, business and the wider community - can engage and which can underpin the development of a re-imagined University House.
Paul Egglestone – Extract from the Project Purpose for the refurbishment of University House, March 2017.

Over 40 representatives including staff, students, business partners and alumni attended the initial think-tank session, facilitated by Dr Simone O'Callaghan, Associate Professor Mark Roxburgh from SOCI and Campus Strategy Manager, Meri Butler. The aim of the initial workshops was to develop the Project Brief to inform architectural schematic design.

Assisting SOCI through the co-design project was James Wilson from Lyons Architects, the Melbourne based firm that designed NeW Space, in partnership with local firm EJE Architects. James has a wealth of knowledge in architectural design and pedagogical research and the student experience. James worked with SOCI during the course of the workshops to understand the creative, flexible spaces that we may need in the future and how to best customise these spaces.

Integral to the development of ideas was input from everyone concerning the actual types of spaces that we need to include in the UNH refurbishment. Ideas were flying fast at the first 'empathy mapping' session. Areas included research spaces, staff spaces, equipment and facilities and external stakeholders, to name a few.

On Friday 21 April, during workshop three, participants unanimously agreed that a multitude of studio spaces and equipment is needed to support the 'making' that we do in the SOCI; as is the need for storage, technology and support.

James Wilson presented a high level draft of the space available within UNH and conceptual ideas of the how spaces could potentially be utilised. Anthony Furniss from EJE, also noted some of the heritage concerns that confront the project and how spaces may be opened and combined for a greater collaborative working solution.

As a ‘big idea’ to get excited by, positioning the role of University House at the heart of why we are doing in what we are doing in SOCI offers rich possibilities. Extract from Paul Egglestone’s Project Purpose, March 2017.

On Thursday 4 May, the co-design team reconvened for the final workshop in the Project Brief stage, at UON’s 376 Hunter Street Innovation Hub. This workshop focused on the review of ideas to date, as well as a presentation by Heritage Conservation architect Barney Collins from EJE Architecture. Barney wrote the conservation management plan for UNH House, former Nesca House, and the heritage interpretation plan. Barney provided a comprehensive history of UNH, and discussed creative ways to maintain the historical integrity of the building.

The SOCI project team has documented all of the findings from the workshops so far in the Project Brief stage. We aim to share our findings further in a comprehensive documented report once the construction of UNH is underway in 2018.

As the plans to refurbish UNH are developing, SOCI are interested in capturing anecdotes about people’s memories of Nesca House/UNH. If you have any stories or images to share, please email

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