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SITE: Students in the East

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Walking through lessons from the Bloomsbury Campus – Oscar Wong

ucfapay8 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.

Map of UCL Bloomsbury campus

Map of UCL Bloomsbury campus

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!

 

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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.

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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!

 

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SITE: Students in the East

ucfapay30 January 2017

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.

The SITE team

The SITE team

Curious? Contact studentsintheeast@live.ucl.ac.uk