This week, a few of us were taken by Bill Hodgson, Senior Teaching Fellow of the UCL Bartlett school of Architecture, around Stratford to visit Here East and the Olympic Park, future site of UCL east.
We set off from Euston to complete the route that future route that students may take towards Hackney Wick Station. Upon arriving at the station and departing the overground train, we were greeted by Bill and his remarkably well-behaved companion…. dog, Peggy. Bill gave us a solid run down of the history of the borough, describing in detail the industrial roots and manufacturing base that once flourished in the stoic brick buildings that surrounded us.s we began our walk, it became apparent that the area is undergoing rapid changes. Clever and cheeky street art now adorns building facades left and right, but there are still signs of the old ways that bleed into the streets. As we rounded the bridge, which Bill told us had been created to connect the sides of the river, we found ourselves walking through an interesting contrast of old and new.
The first stop on our visit was to check out the Here East building, a huge and colorful warehouse that will one day house a UCL space for creative design-type projects. At the moment, things were eerily quiet, it is difficult to imagine how even with students present it will bring the site to life.
Still, we took a look inside and saw some interesting art installations as well as one stern security guard. Towards the river bank, the edge of the Here East complex is already home to a few cafés and restaurants, and Bill mentioned that he hoped the area would come to be a resource for UCL East students looking to take a break from campus. Without a doubt, there is great potential to be found in the Here East warehouse! As researchers, we hope to see further developments that help extend links between future UCL East students, Here East and the Bloomsbury community.
From Here East, Bill took us along to the Olympic Park, and we quickly noticed a shift towards wide open space, broad walkways and, incredibly, nature. There is a river running through here, and Theo, our lead student, helped us to identify several species of birds that one would be hard pressed to find in central London. In the distance, we could still see the Olympic Rings next to the velodrome, and on the far side we could just glimpse the aquatic center, which would shortly be our destination.
As we continued walking between the towering Olympic relics, we struggled with a sense of placelessness. The horizon was absolutely bristling with cranes, surrounding skeletal high rise projects and signaling the dynamic of change which permeates this space. However, there were definitely a few existing options for students to take a break and have a meal that we passed, such as the Timber Lodge near the old Olympic village. How could we preserve the UCL community feeling in this land of construction, temporary bridges, and shopping centers?
When we reached the aquatic center, much closer to the future site of UCL East, things certainly became more lively and populated. It may be that these changes take time to realise their potential, and in the years before UCL East opens, perhaps the use of these public spaces will swell, and future UCL East and Bloomsbury community members alike will be able to join a burgeoning and well-developed area. We made our way to Stratford station as the sun cast brilliant light across the metallic structure of Boris Johnston’s infamous Orbit slide.
We bring with us some valuable lessons from our experience with Bill in Stratford. The area is certainly a work in progress, but good inroads are being made to add a sense of community and homeliness to the post-Olympic neighborhood. As far as our research is concerned, we can rethink the way we relate as students and community members to the space around us. Now, more than ever, it is important that we take into account issues of inclusivity, and of accessibility. For new students, especially international students, moving to a new location in a large city can be nerve-wracking, and it is imperative that UCL East strive to minimize the hardship that students undergo as they adjust to their new university. Concerns need to be heard from students with families, or differently abled people. With this awareness, we believe that UCL East can be a valuable presence in the local community.
In terms of our mapping exercise, some students used their phones to track their movement throughout the area as we walked, which we plan to feed into our mapping output.
By Chris Adan.