The subjects of identity and community are always popular in the projects we undertake for universities. Identity is important to most people in contemporary society and we have found that understanding the real, rather than perceived identity of a place is often the route to creating a successful place.
Many new university spaces have been or are being developed across the country. Many of these, although pleasant contemporary environments, often lack certain qualities and subsequently can be a tad devoid of character. The most successful spaces we know always express something about the identity of that place and the community who inhabit it.
There are a myriad of ways in which this can be achieved, from the building and landscape architecture itself, through to the furniture specification, signage and artwork. We are frequently asked to write about this topic and there are two projects in our portfolio that illustrate the point well. These projects are very different yet just over a mile apart geographically.
The first project is a space for the University of Glasgow. In this project a huge glazed façade looks out onto the wonderful historic architecture of the campus, while original furniture borrowed from the period reading room is used as a link to the past. Finally artwork constructed from archive and University museum material displays a mixture of achievements, historical events, people and quirky cultural references, which could only be found in this place.
The second project is at Glasgow Caledonian University and provides a strong contrast to UoG. Here the architecture and internal structures have been used to express the concept of a forward thinking, ambitious, even brash place. The internal artwork reflects ideas about landscape, important in a city centre concrete campus, along with more practical references to subjects taught and studied and even some deliberately subversive elements.
So how can we uncover the real identity of University of Birmingham, and in particular reflect this within the external landscape of the Green Heart space?
From our interviews with students and staff conducted in the middle of May, we discovered the importance of the age and the architecture of the campus. References to Old Joe, redbrick, classic, prestigious and Russell Group were often used to describe the spaces, along with the words relaxed, social and friendly, used to describe the atmosphere of the community that inhabit it.
There were also several suggestions for water features, elevated spots, defined seating and in some cases sheltered or private areas to help support the community further. In response to another soft interview question regarding Identity, students and staff highlighted that the Green Heart space should remain green, open and leafy.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of Identity and Community for the Green Heart spaces. If you have something to say please leave your ideas in the comments section, or if you prefer, you can contribute in the upcoming polls, arriving shortly.