The temporary scheme which Livingston Eyre Associates has carried out on a university campus makes a virtue of necessity
The University of East London is currently developing its campus at Stratford in the borough of Newham. The new heart of this campus, known as The Green, will rise on the site of the former car park between an attractive 1890s working men's college (Queen Anne meets Arts & Crafts) and a late-twentieth-century tower block. At the same time the main entrance will move from the busy streetside of the working men's college to new buildings which will abut the tower, thus facing The Green.
While funds are being sought for the new buildings, the challenge for landscape architect Livingston Eyre Associates has been to radically change perceptions and usage of this outdoor space, which was previously hostile to pedestrians. The practice has carried out an interim landscape scheme to make The Green a hub of pedestrian activity, so that already it seems to be the psychological heart of the campus. But the area will eventually be built upon. Although the date of this eventual construction remains uncertain (estimates vary from two to ten years' time), the landscape has to be seen as essentially short-term.
It was felt that the intervention must be bold, creating a sense of identity. Strong visual imagery, plenty of space for moving about, and robust construction were keynotes to the design. Existing pedestrian 'desire lines' were exploited in planning the paths across the site, while the individual areas thus created also had to accommodate places for stopping and resting.
The result is a simple but striking scheme, more reminiscent of the inter- war Cubist designs of Gabriel Guevrekian than of any British precedent. A strident geometry - paths slice diagonally through orthogonal beds set up to reinforce the site lines and centre lines of existing buildings - is articulated by juxtaposing materials in contrasting colours; primarily the hard minerality of grey granite setts against green grass, with dark timber sleepers for steps. This geometry is further accentuated by the change in levels between the beds - raised to create the depth of soil required for planting - and the lower paths.
The change in levels also provides support for the benches, which are built into the walls of the beds. In the southern half of the site, serried ranks of parallel plant boxes hold white poplars; because of the sloping land, insufficient depth could be obtained in the northern half which, thus more open, offers a distinct contrast.
Faced with creating a temporary landscape - and aware of the interest of the University's Department of Environmental Sciences in reseaching and teaching environmental issues - Livingston Eyre Associates decided to make it in such a way that the materials could be recycled, being dismantled whenever construction work began. Excavation has been kept to a minimum, the landscape being built up above the old car park rather than dug down into the ground. Hardwood railway sleepers and stone setts are used because these can be sold back to the suppliers - Trackwork for the sleepers and ced (Civil Engineering Developments) which deals in recycled natural stone - or sold on for another scheme. The benches (stained planks carried on sleepers jettied out from the walls) and lighting fittings can also be recycled.
The designers were concerned to create appropriately urban imagery. The geometry of the new landscape is deliberately strong to contend with the buildings around it. The inherent problem in using railway sleepers, which can easily read as 'natural' material, is countered by the industrial character of galvanised litter bins and bollard lights.
Such an approach is not the cheapest option (the overall budget was £100,000) but among the advantages it offers are its 'green' credentials. Tight timing requirements on the part of the university were met successfully, with the commission agreed late in April 1998, work starting on site three months later, and completion coming two months after that. This five-month framework included negotiating planning permissions and implementing a road-closing order.
Further work will be carried out this year, including the installation of gates to improve security.