Spine-tingling developments

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Credit: Lancaster University

Lancaster University’s iconic central ‘spine’ is getting a makeover and students and staff alike are encouraged to have their say on how it should be reinvented.

During a Next Steps event on the afternoon of 21st October the architects for the project,  gave an exclusive insight into their progress of the designs so far.

Earlier on in the year, students and staff were encouraged to submit their ideas for the spine to the university via special post boxes on campus, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, an event at the Farmers’ market, dedicated workshops and the Innovation Hub.

The hundreds of submitted ideas were shortlisted depending on their impact on the student experience, feasibility, the level of detail and originality. The winning five student and staff suggestions were announced at the meeting and all five received a £100 EAT card to spend in the many restaurants and bars on campus.

One of the winning suggestions came from Michael Luke Dixon, who suggested ‘artwork to celebrate Lancaster’s frequent rain’. This idea was a particularly fond one for the architects because it allowed them to think about how to utilise the rain in Lancaster in an interesting way.

As part of the meeting the architects encouraged students and staff to have their say on how the new design should incorporate signage and directions to spaces. Members of the audience took part in an activity where they discussed the new proposals and how they felt they could be improved.

Stuart Cade, one of the architects responsible for the designs, noted that one of the main intentions for the regeneration is to revert the spine to it’s original purpose and to “open the spine out to create a series of spaces each with their own character”. This idea of opening out the spaces along the spine was supported by many staff and students. The architects have therefore proposed an innovative covering for the spine which doesn’t require columns to stand down the middle making the space feel more open.

Dixon told SCAN that he was very pleased to have been selected as one of the winners but even if he hadn’t been selected he “would have still been part of this, it is an incredible project”. Before the Design the Spine competition had started, Dixon says that he “wanted to redesign the spine before it was even suggested so when it came about I had to do it”. The most important thing for Dixon is that he is giving something back to a community that has given him many opportunities.

Patrick Berning, another of the architects, described how the project will emphasize the university’s connection with the environment. According to Berning the project intends to “encourage green roofs to grow all the way along the spine” which will be able to be seen from above and from certain areas on the spine.

The landscaping for the project is being designed by Danny Nagle, from Grant Associates, and he explained that the use of trees and plants along the newly designed spine and emphasized that most of the greenery used will come from the local area.

LUSU President, Will Hedley, also attended the Next Steps event. Speaking to SCAN, Hedley said: “The Design the Spine project is a brilliant process that has given our students all manner of possibilities to engage with a project that will fundamentally shape the way our campus looks for years to come. There has been some very extensive student consultation on how we use the spine, what we like/dislike about it, and the architects have been fabulously engaged and receptive to our students’ ideas.

“At the end of the day we have an opportunity to have a genuinely meaningful impact upon the process that will change one of the iconic organs of our campus architecture. It will make the spine a more open, user-friendly space, that will allow our students to be more connected to our local environment, from celebrating Lancaster’s famous rain, to having locally sourced, sustainable paving.”

The next stage in the process will involve students and staff coming together for further consultation meetings to address more specific aspects of the design process.

There is still an opportunity to submit any ideas or suggestions if you missed the original deadline. More information can be found on the website designthespine.lancaster.ac.uk or on twitter @designthespine