If you’re anything like me, you probably rush around UCL’s campus in a caffeinated blur of activity, rarely stopping to contemplate your surroundings. You might occasionally feel infuriated by the swing doors underneath the Wilkins Building, sniff longingly at the doughy aromas emitting from Pizza Neo, or enjoy basking on the grass during sunny lunchtimes in the quad. You probably haven’t thought at length about how the campus is set out, how you move around it, or how it influences you and your studies.
Study in the East (SITE) is a staff-student collaborative Changemakers project which aims to produce recommendations for UCL East and Here East by investigating the strengths and weaknesses of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus. Led by the Bartlett, UCL Urban Laboratory, and 14 students from across the university, we are biologists, urbanists, economists and social scientists: more importantly, we are a group of people who use the campus every day, and want to think about it in more detail.
For those of you not aware, UCL East and Here East are imminent developments to UCL’s estate, situated in the Olympic Park, Stratford. Here East will open in summer 2017 and house new courses in the Bartlett and department of Engineering, with a focus on cross-disciplinary research. UCL East is expected to open during 2020, launching diverse new programmes in subjects including Heritage and Material Culture. Both sites are billed as opportunities for experimentation beyond the scope of Bloomsbury, whether this be through academic ingenuity, new ways of collaborating with external partners, or imaginative uses of space. Although aspects of these developments are finalised, there is scope for a group of enthusiastic students and staff to influence many decisions: that’s where we come in.
Since kicking off on January 19th we’ve had two lively project meetings, met with key academic staff involved in UCL East and Here East, and heard from experts on university-led regeneration. Next, we’re off to Canary Wharf to hear from UCL School of Management about their experiences of moving to a new campus in the middle of a business district. Then we’ll be donning warm layers for a bracing walk around the Olympic Park, where we will meet representatives from the local community and learn about their memories of and hopes for the site.
As we come from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, our research interests are broad to say the least. However, several key themes have emerged from our discussions so far. These include: public versus private space and UCL’s relationship with the Olympic Park, community engagement in and around the Olympic Park, and building a sense of identity and coherence between UCL’s Bloomsbury and Stratford sites. We also want to evaluate the strengths and challenges of working as a pan-disciplinary team of staff and students from across the university: so far, the logistical issue of finding overlapping free slots has been fairly time-consuming.
Over the next three months we’ll be conducting further site visits and research activities to investigate topics in relation to these themes. Some of our ideas so far include a Bloomsbury SOUP, drawing from the tradition of Detroit SOUPS, where people from the local community all pay a small fee to attend, projects are pitched, and several are chosen to be funded from the fees paid for entry. Oh, and everyone enjoys some soup. Our Bloomsbury SOUP would involve people pitching ideas for UCL East and Here East such as events or activities to enhance the sense of community.
Ultimately, we will apply what we learn about the Bloomsbury campus and initial plans for UCL/Here East, and produce a series of recommendations for those leading the developments. We will also produce an output, in the form of a report, film, or possibly even interpretive dance. More importantly, we want SITE to be the beginnings of stronger staff-student collaborative research into issues affecting everyone at UCL, as well as our neighbours in surrounding communities.
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