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Archive for October, 2015

Tower Hamlets challenges university’s move out of borough

ClareMelhuish22 October 2015

Having expanded its operation into the East End two years ago, following a merger with London Guildhall University, troubled London Metropolitan University (formerly University of North London) has revealed that it is now to sell off its Tower Hamlets premises and re-consolidate back on its existing Holloway Road campus in London Borough of Islington.

The university moved its highly-regarded school of Architecture and Spatial Design to join the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Media and Design in Central House, opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery in Tower Hamlets in 2013. The establishment on the site of a prestigious new Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design – described in glowing terms as an ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’ –  was accompanied by an internal re-modelling of the building by London Met’s own school-based Architecture Research Unit, headed by professors Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, with the potential to extend the building upwards by three floors.

However, the shock decision to vacate the school and raise £50m for the cash-strapped university by selling the building off for demolition and redevelopment as flats has  been challenged by the new Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs. As reported in the London Evening Standard last night (21/10/15: 10), he claims the move has been prompted purely to address the university’s own “financial mismanagement”, and will “diminish” the community of Tower Hamlets.  The paper further reports that more than 1,000 people have signed a petition against the plans to consolidate the campus in the borough of Islington, closing down all its university teaching centres in Whitechapel, Aldgate and Moorgate – with potentially deleterious effects on the East End borough.

As an ‘anchor institution’ for associated creative and cultural economic development in the borough, the Cass has represented a vital resource for local regeneration, forming part of a new cultural hub in close proximity to the Whitechapel Art Gallery and fast-transforming Brick Lane. So this latest news prompts an interesting question as to what happens when an anchor institution decides, for whatever reason, that it is time to move on and redistribute the benefits of its presence elsewhere.

As quoted in the Standard, John Biggs’ view is that ‘The ideally situated Cass faculty has roots in the East End and a reputation for combining academic study and creative production. To put this heritage at risk [in order] to address the LMU’s financial mismanagement is a tragedy.’

A tragedy for Tower Hamlets perhaps – but not presumably for Islington, where an expanded single campus for London Met on Holloway Road (albeit reducing student capacity by 2,000 to 10,000 in total) could well bring benefits to  a borough which is in fact one of the most deprived local authority areas in the country. 45% of children live in poverty, the second highest rate in the country, and almost all of those live in workless families. Holloway ward in particular is one of several in the borough where multiple deprivation is most concentrated, with male life expectancy at second lowest.

So perhaps it makes sense for London Met to bring the Cass back to north London, as a catalyst for local regeneration on the Holloway Road. At least, that is, until the developers are ready to move in to replace the university facilities with unaffordable flats there as well. In which case, where will the Cass go next? Peterborough (the largest UK city without a university)? Who knows,  it could even re-locate as far as South Korea. And that really would be a loss.

Kings College architects selected to US university design shortlist

ClareMelhuish16 October 2015

Belfast-based practice Hall McKnight, the firm behind the plans for a controversial new building for Kings College London on the Strand, has been shortlisted by Gallaudet University in Washington DC for a $160m redesign of its historic city centre campus. In May, planning permission for the Kings scheme was put on hold by DCLG  after Historic England decided it would result in ‘substantial harm’ to the historic Strand frontage targeted for demolition and replacement with a new building. Responding to the public outcry, Kings subsequently withdrew the proposals, which represented one element of the modernisation programme for its Strand campus.

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The Gallaudet project is intended to provide ‘a new gateway for the campus and redefine its boundary with the city as a vibrant creative district’ (BD online 15/10/15). The heart of the 40ha campus, close to the Capitol and the White House, was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted in a gothic style in 1866, and is designated for statutory protection on the National Register of Historic Places. The initiative is conceived as an integral part of a wider regeneration project in Washington DC, providing a focus for the city’s newly emerging creative and cultural industries, and will include a Visitors’ Pavilion in the new Gateway Plaza.

The competition was organised by UK competition organisers Malcolm Reading Consultants, behind the UK’s Olimpicopolis competition shortlist. Catherine Reading, a director, said: “What’s particularly enticing for European architects is the opportunity to design in the centre of Washington DC, for an extremely interesting client.’ (BD online 31/07/15)  The university is also of note as the world’s only leading liberal arts college for deaf and hearing-impaired students, and as a centre for deaf research, culture, experience, and design for deaf people through the DeafSpace design approach.

The key objectives represent current global trends in urban university development (see Gallaudet Vision), within the context of ‘Washington DC’s rapid metamorphosis into one of the most dynamic cities in North America’ (Fred Weiner, Gallaudet University):

  • Create a destination for creative cultural exchange and innovation as part of the 6th Street corridor and Florida Avenue Market revitalization.
  • Establish an exemplar of inclusive design and creative place-making within both local neighborhoods and the wider city of Washington, D.C.
  • Give the University a gateway which expresses a more open character, and better integrates the campus, with its wider neighborhood.
  • Shift the focus of the campus back to its much-valued historic heart and rejuvenate the public realm, making it fully inclusive and inviting, whilst also flexible and responsive to change.
  • Seek functional excellence by incorporating DeafSpace guidelines and inspiring new thinking about communications technology, way-finding, and branding.
  • Develop a space that can act as a conduit between the hearing and non-hearing worlds, celebrating human diversity – and with the potential to become a global model.
  • Increase awareness of Gallaudet University as an eminent institution of national and international importance

The winning firm will be selected from the five finalists in February 2016 by a jury which includes the British architect David Adjaye. Hall McKnight is the only British practice to feature on the otherwise all-American shortlist.

Universities as agents of inclusive urbanisation

ClareMelhuish7 October 2015

The Urban Lab + London Symposium on Global Urban Higher Education (hosted by UCL Urban Laboratory, Sept 16th-17th), provided a valuable forum for discussion not only of ‘the challenges and potentials of internationalisation’, but also around a redefinition of the idea of a university as itself an agent of equitable urbanisation.

Quite apart from the fundamental problems of linguistic difference and expectation of political neutrality in international fieldwork (which also set hard and fast parameters around particular research areas and bodies of scholarship), universities have to confront questions around their role in tackling global urban issues, notably urban inclusion. As Caren Levy (UCL) pointed out, social and spatial inequality in cities is an international phenomenon, often exacerbated by the growth of the development industry and the promotion of particular models of planning. Planning itself, as well as planning education, operates under a cloak of neutrality, but is usually instrumental to powerful interests.

However universities themselves figure among those powerful interests that planning serves, and they also form alliances with other parties that increasingly view university partnerships as beneficial to the promotion of their own objectives. While Jane Jacobs (Yale-NUS) proposed that the Yale-NUS campus initiative in Singapore is ‘not an export model of higher education’, but rather a ‘reputational investment’ intended to further Singapore’s own developing programme of education aimed at producing a ‘new kind of citizen subject’ to transform the country, many universities from the global north stand accused of pursuing institutional and physical international expansion plans which simply perpetuate the colonising traditions and inequalities of the past. As Jenny Robinson (UCL) noted, urban studies teaching is being transformed by the aspiration to ‘build knowledge from many different contexts’, and so too universities as institutions have a responsibility to commit to partnerships and develop an analytics of power and urban politics which addresses fundamental issues.

If then ‘cities are not all right’ (Krzysztof Nawratek, cited several times during the proceedings), universities should be demonstrating through their own institutional development and relationships with partners and planning systems how they can actively promote equitable and sustainable urbanisation. But to date, suggested Jean-Paul Addie (UCL), critical urbanism has not sufficiently shaped university-urban relationships. Furthermore, current definitions of ‘the urban’ do not adequately reflect the reality of most urban lives, grounded in suburban environments, and need to be expanded. Addie’s proposal for insititutions to be held to account more widely in terms of their (sub-)urban responsibilities was taken one step further by Alex Schafran (Leeds). He argued that universities framed as ‘urban academies’ should be made formally and legally responsible for public participation, debate and dissemination of information on urban issues, such as housing, to address the sheer incapacity of states to engage in long-term planning. Universities he said need to fill that gap, explicitly engaging with the political dimensions of urbanisation.

Teaching and research provide natural arenas in which to explore and forward such ideas in an international sphere, alongside public engagement strategies aimed at disseminating knowledge and building capacity more widely. But universities can also promote that knowledge through their estates strategies and spatial development plans, in order to demonstrate and disseminate models of responsible engagement with planning systems, and address the perpetuation of inequalities through the urban environment itself. Urban inclusion involves understanding specific issues and conditions which are similar across continents – for example, privatisation of public space and access to urban transport, housing, and social infrastructure. Fear of displacement resulting from place-marketing and speculation in land values is a common concern among populations in less affluent urban neighbourhoods which become the target of development, including university development. But universities have the power to make a difference, by embracing best practice informed by research, teaching and outreach, committing to principles of long-term social and environmental sustainability, and remembering that (in the words of architect Sir Peter Shepheard), ‘The plan of a university, like that of a city, should be a mechanism for enabling things to happen, for the enhancement of life’.

‘Global urban higher education: the challenges and potentials of internationalisation’, London Symposium 2015, took place on 16th and 17th September at UCL. Audio recordings of the full proceedings will shortly be available at https://soundcloud.com/uclurbanlab. For further information about the Urban Lab + International Network of Urban Laboratories, see http://www.urbanlabplus.eu.

 

UCL Urban Lab publishes five case studies on university and community-led urban regeneration

ClareMelhuish5 October 2015

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UCL Urban Laboratory has recently launched five case studies in university and community-led urban regeneration, which explore the role of universities as actors in urban renewal processes, and the potential for communities to engage and take a lead in such processes. The case studies and introduction are the output of an 18-month research project, conducted by Dr Clare Melhuish, in parallel with the announcement and development of proposals by UCL to build a new campus in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford.

In March 2015, the Urban Laboratory published a summary of interim findings from the research. The case studies now provide detailed insights into the processes of visioning, communicating, and developing urban spatial development plans which many universities are undertaking, often in partnership with other urban and regional regeneration agencies, and as a stimulus and anchor for wider urban development. They include Queen’s Campus, Durham University in Stockton; the NorthWest Cambridge development by University of Cambridge; Newcastle University at Science Central; three US models – University of Pennsylvania, New York University, and Columbia University; and lastly Somerleyton Road in south London, a partnership between Lambeth Council, Brixton Green and Ovalhouse Theatre designed to promote a new model for community-owned affordable housing and social infrastructure.

Each case study is presented in the same format for comparative purposes, structured in five sections: historical and policy contexts; structures and processes; visions and narratives; translation into place; and a concluding section summarising key issues and learning points. They draw on a mix of bibliographic and archival research, interviews, site visits and observations, and photographic documentation, with a view to developing some qualitative insights pertaining to specific projects as well as identifying some overarching principles. The case studies are prefaced by an introductory essay which provides an overview on university development, and sets it in context with reference to some of the main shifts in urban regeneration and higher education policy and practice (see also Policy Milestones), while highlighting the international scope of university expansion within cities as an aspect of the global production of cities as ‘policy assemblages’ from elsewhere (McCann and Roy 2013).
Contact Dr Clare Melhuish: clare.melhuish@ucl.ac.uk
For other enquiries, contact Jordan Rowe: jordan.rowe@ucl.ac.uk