Outdoor spaces

Our human desire to make connections with outdoor spaces and Mother Nature has been the driving force that shapes how we have approached landscaping for many years.  The power of nature is obvious  –  whether it is a secluded green park in the centre of a busy city, or an impressive formal garden surrounding a grand stately home, a coastal trail connecting us to the sea, or a forest path inviting us into the woods, nature can inspire and move us or simply help us to relax.

We want your new landscaped spaces to be both innovative and unique.  For us this means that we must work with staff and students to design spaces that are exciting, functional, appropriate and reflect the community and identity of the users. We must also be aware of the project in its context and examine the latest thinking and design practice employed by universities, schools and colleges so that we may learn from the best and share the results.

Below are a small handful of recent projects that have been completed or are in the pipeline, that could help to you to imagine what the Green Heart space could look like at the University of Birmingham.

We particularly enjoyed:

Harvard Common Space Project - USA

Harvard Common Space Project – Massachusetts.  By Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc

The Harvard Commons space that encourages a feeling of community.

The Highline project - New York

The Highline Project – NY.  By James Corner Field Operations, with Diller Scofidio Renfro, Piet Oudolf

The spirit and identity of the High-Line project in the context of the original site’s use.

Queen Elizabeth olympic park - London

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – London.  By Hargreaves Associates, LDA Design, Sutton Vane Associates, University of Sheffield, Sarah Price

New Google Campus - California, by BIG

New Google Campus – California.  By BIG-Bjarke-Ingels Thomas Heatherwick Studio

The spaces and function of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park & new Google Campus

10,000 Bridges - Xi'an International Horticulture Exhibition

10’000 Bridges Exhibition – Xi’an.  By West 8

Schouwburgplein - Rotterdam

Schouwburgplein – Rotterdam.  By West 8

And the playfulness of both the 10,000 Bridges and Schouwburgplein projects.

Now we would like to know what kind of space you would like to see. We would love to see your thoughts and ideas in the comments section, but if you would prefer you can contribute in the upcoming polls.

15 thoughts on “Outdoor spaces

  1. Hi there. I work on campus in one of the site libraries, Harding Law Library, that’s also closing at the same time as Main Library. I’m very drawn to the idea of the Green Heart (being an avid horticulturalist how can I not be?). I am also deeply saddened by how buildings are flattened and forgotten – especially here in Birmingham! I have a suggestion for you that could create a space that honours the memory of Main Library. Do you know of the Tree Cathedral in Milton Keynes? It was created in the mid 1980s by landscape architect Neil Higson, and is based on the footprint of Norwich Cathedral. I’ve been there once and found it a wonderfully calm almost sacred space. My suggestion to you is to create a tree lined space that marks the outline of the old Main library. The trees, densely planted, could create a quiet intimate space within, like the old library, where students and staff could take their ease and even work outdoors in on warmer days. It could be very simple, a mown grass space, or it could be dotted with benches and outdoor desks. It wouldn’t necessarily have to cover the entire footprint of Main library, maybe just the main redbrick part. But I do think it would be a really interesting way to memorialize the old Library and the countless thousands of students who have plied it’s corridors since the 1950s. The trees could even reflect that ‘redbrick’ facade using red maples, dark pink cherries and hawthorns, or you could go for towering redwood trees tall and straight that would really create a sense of height and space, or you could use native trees sympathetically like Higson did in his tree cathedral.
    Anyway, that’s my idea, hope you like it.


    • Thankyou for the feedback and suggestions which we will be incorporating into our reports and passing to the design teams. It was decided to demolish the old library after feasibility studies showed it was not possible to bring it up to standard to meet the needs of 21st century students and staff. Built in the late 1950s, the building had always truncated the avenue of trees which led from north gate to the clock tower, and its demolition allows us to reinstate the views of the clock tower as part of the Green Heart. We already have some plans to ensure the old building is not forgotten – including incorporating the designs of the shields from above the main entrance within the new library, and will look at other suggestions from staff, students and the local community.


  2. As a major landowner in the region we should be leading the way in providing green space that works for nature as well as people. We could ask the local Wildlife Trust or Buglife’s ‘Urban Buzz’ to be involved in the design stage, and provide habitats such as wildflower meadows, ponds, birdboxes and insect hotels.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am disappointed that the canal has not appear to have been incorporated in the Green Corridor plans at the University of Birmingham. The canal is a unique feature of the University Campus and provides a sustainable corridor to the very heart of the city. This journey can be achieved with zero emissions using the hydrogen fuelled canal boat, the Ross Barlow. I would be very happy to provide further details of this exciting technology.


    • Thanks for the comments. The Green Heart is a specific area within campus, rather than the whole site, and is bordered by the new library and not by the canal. However, we agree that the canal is a striking feature of our campus – and we know many staff and students use the towpath to walk, jog or cycle to the University. It is exciting to hear about other possible ways of travel on it too – especially if it incorporates Birmingham research!


  4. I work at the University and am fortunate to be able get to campus on foot, a green and free mode of transport! Often I arrive early and leave late, when it is dark (particularly throughout the winter months).

    I’m delighted to learn about the planned Green Heart – I also sincerely hope that personal safety will be considered and incorporated into the design. I currently feel very safe walking around, so please ensure that all green spaces have excellent visibility and a sense of openness.


  5. I wonder how the concept of ‘discovery’ could also get reflected into the project? By definition the heart of the campus is at the centre of the estate and is the ideal starting point to discover the physical layout of the campus and its buildings and also to discover the expansive academic project of the University in terms of world class teaching and research.

    Not entirely sure how to do this!? Perhaps something around careful planting of trees etc could lead the eye into core areas of the campus where key academic schools are based? It’s about connecting the physical layout with the ethos of the University which is a few steps on from ‘just’ having a physically attractive/restful/contemplative landscape .


  6. I think the name of this project has to fit with the actual work done on the site. The name ‘Green Heart’, from my perspective, represents the whole area to be established as a mini-jungle instead of a concrete jungle. At least 90% of ‘Green Heart’ should covered with greenery. As simple as that. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It would be really nice to have a water feature in the Green Heart. In the summer months, the campus is on a buzz with the students crashing out on the lawn taking a rest from the exams. I think having a water feature would create some light relief and fun for everyone.


  8. It would be great if the green heart could incorporate some of the ideas articulated by Amanda Burden (see link). I like the idea of well-designed street furniture for people to use as they like, and to create a sense of place.

    The outdoor area outside the Guild already does this well with the plastic benches, tables, and music. The area where the Green Heart will be currently lacks this sort of outdoor communal space which encourages people to sit down and pause, rather than use it as a series of corridors to different parts of the campus.


  9. I think its really great that the university is thinking about revamping its central squares but wanted to find out whether this extends to other parts of campus too?

    The current landscaping, especially around the North East of the Campus (School of Education, Ashley) etc while generally tidy is very tired. It would be a shame to spend so much money on a new beautiful space at the centre of the campus, for this not to be reflected elsewhere.

    Some of the ideas above are very interesting, and might be considered “exciting” now , though I wonder how well they might wear in the coming decades. Also some of the suggested ideas do seem rather “monumental” in a way that looks like it might be clumsy, and become very dated over time. It may sound terribly boring, but could we perhaps think about something more “classy” classic and classical, inkeeping with the rest of the architecture rather than shouting against it? One of the things I like about the campus is that it has strong architectural lines so a design that works with this rather than against it would be very welcome.

    I’m very excited about the prospect of the project “knitting” together the different styles of buildings in the campus, and feel that this might be a good opportunity to give each of the different areas their own different character that works to set off the period of the building that surrounds them. Something contemporary around the new library perhaps, while fading out into something more neoclassical towards the arts building, and then on to something more edwardian towards the older bits of the campus. http://www.theenglishgarden.co.uk/choice/design_edwardian_style_in_the_garden_1_3735039/ or perhaps something that makes much more of a historical statement around our most “iconic” buildings like the Barber, Old Joe and the University that really show off the institutions heritage – we did put the “redbrick” into redbrick after all.

    If I could also put a vote in for places that are quiet and reflective too? One of my favorite gardens I visited recently was a visit to the courtyard at St Vedast Church in the city of London, a small quiet enclosed courtyard garden with a wondeful maple tree in the cenre.
    http://www.brettlees-smith.com/blog/2016/5/3/a-visit-to-st-vedast-alias-foster – the space was inviting, enchanting, contemplative, and very simple, just the sort of place and space I’d love to see at the university. A few similar spaces dotted around to take your book, your coffee and just hang out away from the throngs would be lovely. I’d also like to vote for water here too!

    I’d like these spaces to be comfortable, cosy, and perhaps even intimate and “roomlike” rather than empty windsept “plazas” one can only enjoy once in a blue moon but also places to shelter and even enjoy the rain, wind and gloom. As such also perhaps important is seasonality – given that most of us see these spaces in term-time perhaps we could think about this in the design too; things that look good and spaces that are usable and enjoyable in the autumn, winter and spring. As such places should have comfy (perhaps even movable) seating where you can linger on a chilly spring morning and relax rather than getting a bum ache from sitting on a concrete bench.

    Wildlife would also be an important part of any new space; with the current monoculture of planting the most exciting wildlife we get on camus is a few pidgeons. If there was somewhere for people to sit and enjoy garden birds, fish or even a couple of ducks somewhere, this would be a revelation!
    In terms of this I wonder if the issues of practicalities / maintanance and upkeep? I know from my own gardening exploits that good gardens are extremely difficult to keep up, something that certainly reflects my experience of the rather lackluster landscaping currently on campus, perhaps advocates for keeping things simpler too?


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