Walking through lessons from the Bloomsbury Campus – Oscar Wong
By ucfapay, on 8 February 2017
The SITE (Student in the East) team has now been formed! Last week, we had a meeting with the UCL East Academic Directors and the Dean of the Bartlett Faculty where we discussed objectives of the SITE project. One of the objectives was to improve on the student experiences in the UCL East new campus by taking lessons from the Bloomsbury Campus. As identified in our earlier post, the use of public and private campus spaces would be one of the key focuses in our project, including the walkability in the campus. UCL Bloomsbury has been a walking-friendly and accessible campus – all parts of the main campus were within walking distance; campus facilities were gradually improved to be fully accessible.
In spite of the walkability, a lesson can be drawn from my daily walking experience in the Bloomsbury campus. Initially, I had
confusion getting around places within the campus using the map: I was not able to get to the Main Quad from Gordon Street because there was no access on the East wing of the main campus. Therefore, I had to divert via Malet Place or the main gate, which took me another 5 minutes to detour. After spending two months in the campus, I have learnt a new ‘shortcut’ – one could go through buildings on Gordon Square. In principle, there is no access from Gordon Square/ Gordon Street for anybody outside the history department. However, as the doors are not locked from Monday to Friday, one can technically leave the Main Quad via the history department. As such, some might wait outside the history department for someone to open the door while exiting in an attempt to take the shortcut.
I am interested in understanding how students and staff behave in their daily campus life, and therefore I spent a minute (12:53, 7th Feb 17) to see whether they would use the ‘secret shortcut’. The result of the observation was surprising – more than 20 people took the shortcut in one minute, suggesting that many have already discovered this informal route which did not seem like a secret path anymore. It has never been a recommended route, especially from UCL maintenance’s point of view, considering meetings/ classes in the building may be disturbed. A warning sign on the door suggested no access to the Main Quad in attempt to stop people from exploiting the access. However, many ignored the sign!
Three lessons could be drawn:
- If the walkable/ accessible route is not optimal, users will find their ways and adopt more convenient alternatives. In this example, individuals responded to the sub-optimal walkable access by using a more convenient route. However, they may cause disturbances to other users in the building. A bad design may lead to user-adopted alternatives, which may affect other users. A better design is needed!
- Ground floor access is particular important in terms of walkability. Ideally, routes across the campus from various directions should be provided in order to improve the walking environment and pedestrians’ walking experiences.
- It is understood that the public access is blocked because of the construction works. Thus, optimal mitigation measures are required to minimise disruptions to the members of the community.
The above example is only the tip of the iceberg, illustrating the need for optimal designs. Our project aims to learn from the Bloomsbury campus experiences and provide recommendations for the UCL East campus to optimise the designs and managements of the new campus.
We would like to hear any interesting observations and experiences you have had in the Bloomsbury Campus. You are encouraged to participate in our coming events including Bloomsbury SOUP and Campus Walk – details to follow. Your contributions can help improve the overall campus experience. Let’s make UCL East campus a better place for all!
Oscar is doing his Master at the Bartlett School of Planning. Through joining the SITE team and delivering the research project, he hopes to gain a better understanding of the ways in which the new campus of his university is planned and shaped. Prior to reading a Master at UCL, Oscar was a Borough Planner at Transport for London, a policy analyst of UN major group Children and Youth and a think tank of Hong Kong Public Space Initiative.