Hybrid co-working, meeting and social space inside Orbit Building, NETPark, Durham University

NETPark - Durham University

SPACE Architects worked alongside Durham University on the refurbishment of the NETPark Research Institute to create Orbit, which brings together business, academic spin outs and student enterprises, with access to the University’s research expertise, support and learning, test facilities and collaborative working opportunities.

The North East Technology Park at Sedgefield, County Durham is the fastest growing science park in the UK, supporting a range of new companies that are developing innovative technology and products including printable electronics, photonics and nanotechnology. The NETPark Research Institute was the first building to be opened at NETPark and houses part of the University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation.

Durham University Orbit Building reception area with "Welcome to Orbit" wall display

After receiving £1.4m in Research England funding, Durham University approached SPACE to develop the proposal for a University Enterprise Zone which will enable the University to respond directly to the ongoing success and expansion that the Northern Accelerator programme has created in the region, requiring development of physical innovation infrastructure to support emerging spin-out businesses.

Alternate view of hybrid co-working, meeting and social space inside Orbit Building, NETPark

The vision

The University Enterprise Zone was conceived to provide bespoke support to technology and science-focused small and medium enterprises. Businesses that become members of Orbit are set to receive targeted guidance and support from researchers, test facilities, the chance to attend regular workshops and events as well as the use of one of the flexible, private or collaborative office spaces.

Spacious co-working space inside Orbit Building, NETPark

Businesses and processes

There are many businesses that are already located at NETPark including that of radiation detection and medical imaging company, Kromek, and Magnitude Biosciences, both spin-out companies of Durham University. Orbit will also be working with partners such as Business Durham, Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Feature wall with "Start something big" mural inside Orbit Building, NETPark

The result

SPACE conducted research with industry partners into various spatial models and their ability to support innovation, which was crucial in informing the developing design.

We worked closely with Durham University to refine a spatial brief that would deliver high-quality infrastructure to support world-leading research and enterprise. Bringing together academic research, graduate start-ups and industry expertise, the building has been designed to promote collaboration, knowledge transfer and incidental encounters between like-minded organisations.

Close-up detail of lights hanging from ceiling inside Orbit Building, NETPark

High-quality interior finishes, furnishing and audio-visual infrastructure played a key role in making spaces attractive to prospective members, including flexibility for a multitude of working practices from collaborative group working, design sprints and seminar delivery.

Jenny Taylor, Head of Economic Development at Durham University, said:

"Orbit will provide the space to help businesses to grow and innovate by supporting them to collaborate with our researchers and students.”

"University research is vital to local economic growth, even more so in a time when many businesses have faced challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We hope that Orbit will drive up levels of research investment in the region, promote productivity and support jobs growth."

Close-up detail of seating within hybrid social space inside Orbit Building, NETPark

Sophie Walton, Group Director of Academic Engagement at CPI, added:

"Orbit's membership model is very innovative, and businesses will not only be able to readily tap into world-class scientific capability but will also get support in achieving their commercialisation ambition – such as scaling up of their technologies, finding finance options, or refining their business propositions.”

"Initiatives like Orbit can have a substantial acceleration effect on company growth, helping create jobs and supporting the regional economy in what is currently a very tricky business climate."