Forget Detroit - Newcastle is the new Silicon Valley

Ambitious plans for iconic building on St Nicholas Street point towards the future for Newcastle

Richard Waterhouse, Chief Exec, RIBA Enterprises
Richard Waterhouse, Chief Exec, RIBA Enterprises

The North East has been given a £5m vote of confidence that will create top quality jobs and revamp a historic building.

The old Post Office on Newcastle’s St Nicholas Street is being revamped in a £5m project which will see it become the focal point of advances in architectural design.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is replacing paper designs for structures with computer generated models.

RIBA Enterprises, the commercial arm of the Royal Institue of British Architects, has moved its headquarters from London to Newcastle because of the region’s expertise in that area, buying the freehold of the Post Office building from the Duke of Northumberland’s Hotspur Estates.

A number of architectural practices based in the North are to be invited to submit proposals for the work, with an appointment expected to be made in June. The project will be completed early next year and will result in 50 extra staff added to the 180 the company currently employs.

The firm’s announcement comes just a few days after a much-criticised article in The Guardian newspaper which compared the North East to the American city of Detroit and its inability to recover from the death of its motor industry.

Chief executive Richard Waterhouse said: “We read about the Detroit comparisons in the office and we were absolutely fizzing about it. It’s so far from the reality of Newcastle, just look at what we’re doing here.”

RIBA Enterprises plans to increase the space it already occupies from 18,000 to 26,000 square feet via an ambitious redevelopment plan, which will comprise a combination of refurbishment, extension and some new building.

In addition to its own offices, the development will include the creation of an architecture gallery and other facilities to host industry and public events, such as a lecture theatre and social areas including a large open plan cafe bar.

To this end, the organisation, which provides a range of services to the architecture and construction industries, from digital modelling of buildings to online knowledge hubs, bought the freehold of the Old Post Office as well as a number of surrounding buildings.

Mr Waterhouse added: “The construction industry is currently experiencing huge change and we have invested significantly in technology and knowledge to support this. We are expecting further major growth and now need to invest in our facilities.

“We are committed to providing fantastic facilities for our staff to support our ambition to become one of the region’s best employers.”

One of the points in the Guardian article was that while the city’s universities produced excellent students, job prospects were limited so they had to move out of the region to find work.

Mr Waterhouse commented: “One of the reasons we are here is because of the quality of students who are in the city and staying not just to work for us. The city is becoming a centre of BIM expertise.”

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