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Thursday24 July 2014

Bartlett tutors at war with UCL

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Academic staff claim they were ‘snubbed’ in planning of east London’s Carpenters Estate campus

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards, senior lecturer in the economics of planning

War has broken out at UCL over its plans to establish a new £1 billion campus development next to the Olympic Park in Stratford.

Tutors from the Bartlett are angry the university failed to consult its own world-class planning experts to ensure the scheme would be an “exemplary” and “ethical” regeneration. They say they have been forced to issue a public statement last week because internal attempts to influence UCL management had “no detectable impact”.

Michael Edwards, senior lecturer in the economics of planning, said the proposal risks heaping “public odium” on UCL’s reputation. “You wouldn’t know from the proposals that this college contains experts on planning and urban regeneration,” he said. “So far as I know, none of us was asked to contribute to the formulation of UCL’s plans.”

The row centres on a proposal to bulldoze the Carpenters Estate, where 318 families still live, to make way for UCL’s new campus.

This has been designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, which also masterplanned the future of the existing campus. Pressure on Bloomsbury would be eased by the move east of several departments, including the Bartlett and engineering.

Overview of UCL Stratford

Overview of UCL Stratford

The 23ha project also includes student accommodation and a residential element, though it is not clear how much of this would be social housing.

Edwards said a new campus could be a “good and emancipatory element” in Stratford, but not on that site. “UCL should not be part of a process in which thriving communities are erased to make way for other activities,” he said.

“Council estates all over London are being bulldozed to make way for upmarket housing at a time when we need more social housing. I’m totally opposed to UCL’s current scheme, which I have tried, without success, to influence.”

He and colleagues at UCL’s cross-disciplinary Urban Laboratory, led by architect Ben Campkin, are convinced they could devise an alternative that would not force people from their homes.

Campkin said that, though a few academics had been consulted, including Bartlett dean Alan Penn, it was clear the university’s specialists had been overlooked. “UCL should be doing an exemplary ethical regeneration,” he said. “I am still hopeful it will do something good, but the proposition would need restructuring.”

UCL, which recently hired Hawkins Brown to refurbish the Bartlett’s existing home, said the benefits to the university and to Stratford would be immense. It is now preparing to launch a major public consultation which will include Carpenters residents.

The university declined to comment but a statement on its website said: “UCL will bring our world-renowned expertise in architecture and the built environment to bear in the development of the university quarter.”

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Readers' comments (20)

  • Can you imagine a worse client body to work for than a faculty full of self-important theoretical architects and planners! No wonder they've kept them at arms length!!

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  • I disagree with the comment above. A university should use all of it's assets and it is very silly to disregard their I house expertise.

    What message does this send to students if the university doesn't believe in the wares they peddle?

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  • casual observer

    Of course if you were planning a large engineering and physical sciences project like the Large Hadron Collider, you would try to avoid any invovement by the academics employed to use it ...

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  • Hugo, you have understood my point perfectly. I had twelve tutors during my training at two universities. Of these, only four had designed any buildings worth speaking of. Four of them weren't even registered architects. So much for in-house expertise.

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  • Look QA I understand the point as I have both practical and theoretical experience as an Architect. mostly practical as teaching seems to be a difficult avenue to venture into from practice, without a degree of fame anyhow.

    I disagree with your point because the professors will not be implementing the scheme working drawings, NBS, meeting building regs, etc.

    They would I imagine act as client representatives, informing the brief and protecting the universities interests. If they have practical professors some may carry on and move to the implementation team
    but at least the Architects cannot take on work they cannot resource so
    your view is unhelpful and I find...... off hand.

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  • OK it's a nice idea in theory, but thinking about how long it would take for a whole faculty of academics to actually agree on a design solution I can see why they haven't done it!

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  • they should have held a competition for the project..... would have been interesting to see how many of the practicing and teaching staff would have put a bid in, just like the rest of us would have had too!

    i think they could have at least encouraged the staff to produce schemes before approaching a practice that are more suitable to actually developing the scheme to a working project

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  • QA - I'm not sure that anyone is saying that a design must be signed off by every single member of staff, but given that you've got some of the world's foremost planning minds inhouse (Sir Peter Hall for starters), it might be a nice idea to run a few things past them.

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  • Good on them for complaining, all too often architecture schools are treated with contempt from their own Universities who would rather avoid debate in preference of the simple solution. If the end user is not even talked to in the design of the project surely the scheme becomes a pure commercial enterprise, with little interest in the improvements to teaching or quality in space it could offer.
    I also wander how this does anything for the image of the so called Olympic legacy. Surely this goes against it by removing some of the few remaining local communities in that area. All it will do is add to the increasingly alienating landscape arround the park, and the sterile character felt around Stratford along the A11 from the Bow Flyover.

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  • james francis

    If I was from Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands I might be taking offense at the tone/implications of some of the comments made in the article.

    Also I would also guess that rather than just a very simplistic view the procurement of the services engaged would have been made with due care and respect of statutory and UCL's own rules, guidance and best practice.

    There also will no doubt have been budget and associated time/programme pressures that would have limited the scope of a wider stakeholder consultation?

    This article leaves more unsaid than it reports, we just have a few scrappy sound bites and a headline... come on BD if you want to open a can of worms then some in depth journalism might help, especially as your readership is well informed and educated.

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