The Heart of the Campus

designed by /

Location: Nottingham / UK / Type: Campus / Squares and Plazas / Built: 2016 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on July 18, 2019

re-form landscape architecture: The Heart of the Campus development has as its focus a major new campus plaza space forming the physical, social and organisational hub to the university’s existing campus facility at Clifton, located on the outskirts of the city of Nottingham, UK.

The concept for the project emerged simultaneously during the creation of a new student services and teaching facility and the development of a landscape led campus wide strategy for the university. This strategy identified the need for a radical reconfiguration of the campus around a clear hierarchy of routes and spaces, which in turn provides a clear identity, and improves and establishes a strong relationship between buildings and external space. The ‘Heart of the Campus’ project empitomises this symbiosis between landscape and architecture – a new plaza is flanked by two new buildings, housing student services and teaching facilities respectively. It also includes the design of a new quadrangle space adjacent to the refurbished library which forms a small outdoor auditorium and teaching space.

The central plaza is a triangular space articulated by strong geometric banding that echoes the bays to the main flanking pavilion. Acting as a foil to this strict geometry are several ‘garden squares’ and bands of tree planting which vary in size within the modular dimensions established by the building façade. The garden squares consist of raised lawns and planted areas within and around which are opportunities for seating. The gardens are arranged in such a way as they do not prevent the free flow of movement through the space. The hard landscape materials comprise bands of silver-grey aggregate concrete slabs forming bays of red clay pavers, laid in a herringbone pattern. This distinct paving motif now extends to other areas of the campus in order to define the principal spaces. Connecting routes are formed using two tones of smaller unit slab pavers, and secondary spaces are surfaced in buff coloured, resin bound aggregates.

The plaza space now creates a strong sense of arrival for the Clifton Campus. A place where all routes and functions converge in order to promote social and learning interaction – a clear ‘heart’ to the campus. The strong visual aesthetic has also set up a distinct design language which has been employed on more recent projects across the campus, thus underpinning a clear sense of place.

The planting scheme was developed in close consultation with the university landscape & grounds maintenance team who can grow plant stock at their glasshouse facility at Brackenhurst (another university campus to the east of the city). A formal structure of evergreen (Buxus sempervirens) is interspersed with swathes of mixed perennials which provide seasonal colour throughout the year. Tree planting is used in two ways – to create strong formal avenues, defining the axial routes across the plaza (providing additional emphasis to the hierarchy of connecting routes), and in smaller groups to provide softening and dappled shade within the plaza space itself. Maples (Acer platanoides ‘Emerald Queen’) and birch (Betula utilis) are used to form the avenues, whereas flowering species such as cherry (Prunus avium ‘Plena’) are used in the garden squares.

Throughout the scheme the tree pits have been designed in order to reduce the rate of surface water runoff. The space, which in its pre-existing condition was a tarmac car park, was designed to provide a balance between a functional hard landscape whilst responding to the need for more usable green space on the campus. The net increase in green space and a significant number of new trees reduces the burden on the existing drainage system. The tree pits were designed to provide additional water storage by re-using surface water runoff for irrigation purposes through an innovative system of attenuation crates, filtration membranes and specialist manufactured topsoil. The design carries other advantages such as reducing on-going maintenance costs of watering and reducing the need for large areas of costly below ground attenuation. Having been in place for over two years the system is working well and all the trees have established successfully.

The quality of the space and the benefit that it brings to the campus has been recognized through numerous built environment and sustainability awards. Students, academics and visitors use it on a daily basis – either passively or in groups during organized events. It is now regarded – as it was conceived- as the focus of both social and academic life, and therefore it really does function as ‘the heart of the campus’.

Location: Clifton Campus, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Design firm: re-form landscape architecture limited
Architect: Evans Vettori
Design year: 2014
Completed: 2015 – 2016
Area: 0.8 Ha
Budget: £900k
Cast stone benches: Metrolinea by Marshalls plc
Kerbs & paving slabs: Conservation units by Marshalls plc
Concrete block paving: Kellen by Hardscape
Clay block paving: Penter pavers by Wienerberger
Timber & steel benches: bespoke by Bluton
Resin bound aggregate: Addaset by Addagrip
Trees: Hillier Nurseries Limited.
Photo Credits: Simon Vine
Graphics: re-form landscape architecture

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