This week I paid a swift visit to Bruges, where I sat on a jury to assess 3rd year Applied Architecture students from Howest University College West Flanders who have developed masterplans for a mixed-use site close to the Olympic village in East London. Fourteen groups presented their ideas on how to transform an industrial canal-side site into a place to live, work and play.
The students had visited the area in September and were struck by the scale, density and diversity of East London, all of which they tried to respond to in their final plans.
They were also introduced to some of the challenges currently facing designers and the development industry in the UK and in particular in London.
Some very interesting ideas were put forward, particularly around sustainable technologies, and some quite playful references were made to the site’s industrial past. There were also a number of really evocative and sculptural designs.
Given their limited contact with the site, it was of course challenging for the students to gain a real understanding of its social, economic and environmental context.
This led to some gaps in their ideas and provoked interesting discussion around context, accessibility, financial viability and the balance between public and private realm.
Above all, we explored the real challenges of achieving quality of place for those who will live, work and play on the site and for those who manage, service and maintain it.
My parting advice to the students was to think of all of the people who will come into contact with the site, intentionally or through circumstance.
To achieve quality of place, any designer must be informed by local context and understand the complex balance of local needs and aspirations.
*Thank you to lecturer Rob van Helvoort and his students for allowing us to show some of their design ideas in this blog.