New £13 million project goes Beyond Imagination in tackling world issues


Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts which will house the new Beyond Imagination project
Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts which will house the new Beyond Imagination project

Beyond Imagination, a radical £13.2 million research project, will explore and demonstrate how cutting-edge design research can create a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable world.

Launching in August, it will enable Lancaster University’s ‘ImaginationLancaster’ design research laboratory to expand its reach and expertise through a series of exciting initiatives including the UK’s first ‘Dark Design Lab’ examining nocturnal urban activity on health and wellbeing.

The Government is investing £7.6 million in the project through the modern Industrial Strategy.

The bold and engaging Beyond Imagination project will put design research at Lancaster firmly on the global map, transforming the University’s ImaginationLancaster design team with the advent of 33 new roles – a significant increase.

Making the announcement today Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and conquering new innovations are what our universities are known for the world over. This programme led by Lancaster University will look to design the products and services of the future that can best support people.

“The Expanding Excellence in England Fund will support projects throughout England to master new and developing areas of research and industry.

“Made possible through our record R&D spend delivered by our modern Industrial Strategy, the investment will support researchers to develop solutions and opportunities for UK researchers and businesses.”

Beyond Imagination is one of only 13 awards made out of 130 applications from across the UK. The three-year project will provide fresh perspectives on the real world focusing on five key themes: home and living; communities and the public sector; factory and workplaces; cities and urban; and population and policy.

These clusters, each to be managed by a leading design professor, are connected by four themes: health, sustainability, international and prosperity.

In addition to this, Lancaster University will provide £5.6 million funding. The University funding will support the creation of a new visualisation studio in addition to funding PhD students, post doctoral research and academic staff. 

Building on 12-years’ cross-disciplinary design research by ImaginationLancaster - a key part of the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts - Lancaster University is uniquely placed to support this type of radical transformation in research. 

Recognised as one of the top design research laboratories globally, ImaginationLancaster undertakes design research across a broad range of areas addressing issues around futures for people, places, products and services, for example; Ageing Society, Artificial Intelligence and Data, Clean Growth, Health and Wellbeing - and it will also identify and tackle future emerging challenges.

The expansion of ImaginationLancaster will include initiatives focused on architectural research in addition to design.

Initial focus will be on government policy-led challenges highlighted in the Industrial Strategy and where research can have an impact in developing economies for example through addressing the UN`s Sustainable Development Goals while also identifying and tackling future emerging challenges.

One of these, for example, will be the set-up of the UK’s first Dark Design Lab, a fully fitted out visualisation room, investigating the effect of nocturnal urban activity on health and wellbeing and develop a new ‘digital triplet’ approach to digital manufacturing that combines physical products, digital models and robots allowing designers to play with these in an intuitive, creative manner.

The ImaginationLancaster team will see the arrival of ten new academics, ten research associates and ten PhD students to add to its current 30-strong staff and 50 PhDs.

The programme’s Principal Investigator, Professor Leon Cruickshank, said: “To be recognised for our excellent research across all disciplines in the UK is brilliant.

“E3 investment will enable us to significantly scale up the development and application of our radical new research in the real world. It will reinforce our position as an internationally-leading design research centre, contribute to the UK’s economy, do social good while exploring new speculative risky research avenues.”

Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University Professor Mark E. Smith said: “E3 investment is strategically very important for Lancaster University. It establishes us as one of the UK’s leading research–led Universities.

“The Beyond Imagination project will dramatically increase capacity to undertake and lead high risk, cutting-edge, design-led interdisciplinary research that will not only transform the landscape of design research, but also the more general approach to undertaking interdisciplinary research that addresses societal, environmental and other complex global challenges.

“This will contribute, through research of the highest international quality, to the UK’s knowledge production and prosperity in addition to international impacts in both developing and developed countries.”

ImaginationLancaster is known regionally and locally for its ground-breaking research. This includes working with Lancaster City Council on projects such as Beyond the Castle, with Lancashire County Council supporting new library staff development and the long established collaborative relationships with Blackburn with Darwen Council and Blackpool Council through the Leapfrog project. ImaginationLancaster is also working with the Eden North project team on the public engagement for the new Eden initiative in Morecambe.

Internationally, ImaginationLancaster has worked with governments and the public sector across the world including Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Korea, Peru, Ghana and China. International projects include Dust Bunnies, addressing the challenge of microbial resistance to antibiotics in Africa, the ethical implications of installing IT infrastructure in refugee camps, and the challenges of addressing obesity in Malaysia.

·        Across the UK, the Government is providing the biggest boost to research and development funding in UK history, as part of the ambition to raise the level of research and development funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. This investment comes as part of the Expanding Excellence in England Fund (E3) supporting England’s world-leading universities to shape new innovations in the economy and provide the skills to support the highly skilled jobs of the future.

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