As the eyes of the world focus on sporting achievements at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the masterplan for the next phase of the long term development of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, created for the 2012 London Olympics, is on view in Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics centre. The proposed new Cultural and Education District is an ambitious urban development for University College London (UCL), the London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts London (UAL), Sadlers Wells and the Victoria & Albert Museum, bookended with two tall residential towers.
Complimenting the Olympic sports facilities and linking with other parts of the overall Masterplan such as the adjacent Pudding Mill Lane site, the Cultural and Education District is in reality two separate areas separated by the Aquatic Centre and the major avenue which leads to the Stadium, now home of West Ham Football Club and which on match days will be flooded with a sea of football supporters. It’s quite a challenge to join the two different parts of the District together, but it feels that there is a missed opportunity – even the exhibition is split in two.
To compound the sense of overall identity, the Waterfront site comprises a mix of architectural styles with two tall residential towers and each project developed in a different style. UCL’s Masterplan in contrast explains the parameters within which the individual buildings and phases will be developed to create a coherent campus, with public spaces and landscaped areas. Sustainability, of course, is key.
A missed opportunity is the lack of an overall public art strategy, which might be expected in a cultural and education district. No doubt there will be connections with local art and community organisations, but the existing art trail across the Park suffers from being lengthy and away from the central facilities. There is a real opportunity to include contemporary art, whether borrowed or commissioned, temporary or permanent, taking the example of other schemes such as Sculpture in the City, that could also help provide the coherence which the current masterplan lacks across the two sites.
The Cultural and Education District is expected to deliver 3,000 jobs, 1.5 additional visitors and £2.8 billion of economic value to Stratford and the surrounding areas. It is a great opportunity for UCL to create a creative, entrepreneurial and innovative campus of around 150-160,000 sq m (gross) of new space to compliment its Bloomsbury campus with connectivity as the key word – across academic departments and with other institutions, companies and local communities.
Martin Summersgill, Head of Development for UCL East, UCL, recently presented the proposals to the HEDQF Annual Conference at UAL in King’s Cross, and this week the architects were announced for the first two buildings: Stanton Williams for the 33,500 sq m academic facility at Marshgate and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands for the 16,500 sq m mixed-use facility at Pool Street. UCL and its architects have a unique opportunity to define the urban university campus of the future.