On Wednesday, Week 9, architects of the Design the Spine project presented their proposed design to a crowd of hopeful staff and students. Architects Rick Mather Associates and Grant Associates gave a detailed presentation of the refurbishment which will begin by Bowland Halls, and end by George Fox Lecture Theatre. The duo ended with a fly-through video, designed to showcase exactly how the redesigned spine will look on ground-level after its makeover.
The biggest change will be the removal of the University’s iconic columns along the north and south stretches of the Spine. The architects argued that removing them will “open up the space and avoid claustrophobia. We will replace the rotting canopy along the North Spine with a glass shelter covering 60% of the width of the Spine.”
Marion McClintock, Honorary Fellow and University Archivist, commented on their removal: “The columns are an integral part of the University architecture and create cohesion across the whole campus, stretching from The County College, through Alexandra Square, and all the way down to the Management School. It will be sad to see them go.”
Joe Thornberry, PG Board Representative, pointed out the functionality of the columns, especially around the campaigning period for elections when they are dressed in posters: “[this] adds a sense of character to the campus. Teaching and learning is an inherently messy process, and I fear that the design proposed today is all very sleek and conformist.”
Whilst the columns will remain around Alexandra Square, some members of the audience suggested adding free-standing columns and pillars, similar to those found in Paris, as possible alternatives. Digital screens, similar to those found in the London Underground, are a potential idea too.
The proposed landscape of the Spine is envisaged as “a connected series of gardens and courts that connect people with nature, and celebrate the landscape of the Lake District and Lancashire. As pedestrians walk from the south to the north of campus, the planting theme moves from the ‘wilder’ wet woodland, wetland pool, and pine woodland, towards the more intensive formality of the gardens on the North Spine.”
The space outside the Physics building will get an overhaul, the area next to the Jack Hylton Room will feature a lakeland stream, and the wet woodland near George Fox Lecture Theatre will have boardwalks stretching through the middle of it. There will also be a number of “green walls,” which will feature climbing plants covering the side of a structure. During the presentation, members of the audience raised concerns about the upkeep of these gardens and green areas, especially during the long autumn and winter months when there are periods of high rainfall.
As the University embarks on the Wayfinding project, to further improve how people navigate campus, questions were asked about how we can bring departments and colleges out onto the Spine. The University is reportedly in discussions with Yorkshire Sculpture Park (Chancellor Alan Milburn sits on their Trustee Board), but concerns were raised about having “sculptures for the sake of sculptures”. The general consensus was that sculptures should be appropriate to specific colleges or departments, rather than being a random addition.
Fountains will be added to the large square between the Art Department and the Great Hall, and it is thought that this space will be transformed into a multi-purpose events space for large gatherings when the fountains are switched off. More seats will be added throughout the whole campus too, taking the total of benches from a mere 6 to 37 (plus 137m of linear seating).
Director of Facilities Mark Swindlehurst commented that “[the team] are well aware that the current Spine refurbishment is only a small part of the mammoth task at hand. It is hoped that, over the years, the Spine redevelopment will continue further south to link up with Alexandra Park, and north to link up with the Health Innovation Campus.”
Staff and students can offer feedback on the design through email or Twitter. Details can be found by visiting the website, here.