The new NTU building that could shape the future of the creative industries

University leaders hope, NTU will take a bold step toward its destiny as an incubator of future technologies and skills
NTU Design Digital Art Building NTU Design Digital Art Building
NTU Design Digital Art Building

It already towers over the more modest Victorian and Art Deco buildings that surround it. Its bold, straight lineaments and sharp grills bear out the architectural mode of the age: stark lines and boxes, and not a curve, column, or arch in sight.

Meet the latest addition to the Nottingham Trent University campus, and Nottingham’s newest tower, now firmly established on the corner of Shakespeare Street and North Sherwood Street. 

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Within months the new 10-storey, 57,000 sq ft Design & Digital Arts (D&DA) building will be completed - the new home for the School of Art & Design. In September it will welcome its first intake of students. 

And with this, university leaders hope, NTU will take a bold step towards its destiny as an incubator of future technologies and skills, making Nottingham a magnet for creative students and professionals for decades to come.

Many hands have been involved in this grand design, including local architects CPMG and masterplan designers Hawkins\Brown. 

But once construction work is complete, it will fall to the Dean of the School of Art & Design, Michael Marsden, to oversee the vision through to the academic delivery stage. And he is acutely aware of the potential the new building presents. 

Michael Marsden, Dean of Nottingham Trent UniversityMichael Marsden, Dean of Nottingham Trent University
Michael Marsden, Dean of Nottingham Trent University
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He says: “This is an opportunity to work with the city of Nottingham to accelerate the development of CDI [Creative and Digital Industries] that are in Nottingham and the region. 

“We want to create an ecology of talent. This fantastic talent pool, combined with the physical infrastructure that the city will have, will lead to job creation, and that becomes a virtuous circle. 

“We genuinely see this as a potential success story for Nottingham and the region.”

That story starts in September. By which time the Design & Digital Arts building will offer a rich and expanded programme of courses in fashion, art, printmaking, film-making, VR, gaming, animation, e-sports and immersive entertainment, among more.

But first, a look back at the past.

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The renowned institute that became Nottingham Trent University dates back to 1843, and a time when Nottingham’s most important industry was under threat. 

Recognising the importance of textiles manufacturing and other creative industries to cities like Nottingham, and conscious of the danger it faced from overseas competition, the government decided to act.

The result was a programme of utilitarian-sounding Government Schools of Design, to harness the power of local talent and creativity in certain industries deemed vital to the British economy. 

First on the list? The Nottingham Government School of Design, founded in 1843, and established in a permanent home in 1865. That home was the Waverley Building, which in 1992 became one of the faculty buildings of the newly-founded Nottingham Trent University.

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The school may be moving on to a sleeker, sharper, more digital base. But to Marsden this evolutionary step fits aesthetically with the long and proud history of the school - right back to its original purpose.

He says: “To ensure that we could maintain a competitive edge the government created what became Nottingham Trent University.

“There’s an ethos there around the education and training of people to be adapting to the industry needs at the time”.

Which is precisely, he says, what NTU is doing now. 

“The skills sector changes so quickly that whilst we can educate students and train them to be effective in using a piece of technology, within a few years that technology will have moved on. 

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“So a really important part of what higher education is now is about developing the attributes of our students to be able to adapt and tak on new ideas, new ways of working. 

“That’s an ethos of the school”.

Designing a new generation

Generations of artists and designers have been through the school, taking this ethos with them into their careers. But now, in an era of such rapid technological progress, Marsden says that academic institutions must go beyond what they currently offer.

“We’re looking at the future technical direction of where these industries are going. For example there’s been an explosion in the UK around film technologies, visual effects, film-making, virtual production.

“We’re introducing a range of courses that fit into that from film production, animation, games design, and games technology. 

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“The focus of the new building is very much around emerging technology and screen-based technology courses. The future generation of graduates will be the change-makers in industry.” 

Investing in the future of Nottingham

In the same spirit of the original government-led initiative that created the very first design school in Nottingham, NTU is hoping to play a larger role - for the good of the city.

Technological innovation has created new creative media, and with them, whole new industries. And Marsden believes that Nottingham can not only benefit in this new era, but play a part in leading it.

“We undertook some research that shows Nottingham has one of the fastest growing CDI sectors in the country,” he says. “The number of companies that are starting out or growing in Nottingham in the CDI is one of the highest in the country.”

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“It’s about the university investing in the future of the city. It’s about having some faith in the talent that’s within the city that we’ll attract and retain. It’s a good thing for Nottingham at the moment.”

It’s still six months until the Design & Digital Arts building welcomes its very first intake. And it will be for history to judge if the bold vision that Marsden and the NTU really does deliver the future “change-makers” it promises now. 

But for now the vision and the will are there in the shape of a grand new tower on the NTU campus, looking out over the city, and ahead to a future rich with potential.