Monday, 4 December 2017

Urban Design Workshop with Oxford Academy

A group of first year students from the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development recently ran an Urban Design workshop with sixth form students from the Oxford Academy. The workshop was designed to develop visions and ideas for the improvement of the Blackbird Leys Central District and is part of a live project to be presented to Oxford City Council.

The day was structured around a number of activities to challenge the students to think about their local environment and how they would like it to look in the future. These included drawing mental maps of the area to explore legibility: a visioning exercise to collect together ideas on how the Central District could be improved and a modelling exercise aimed at translating these ideas into changes on the ground.

The workshop in photos (thanks to the students for all these)...

Mental maps and... analysis.

The results!
Cutting and pasting to create...

...the mood boards

...which are part of the visioning exercise

Work in progress...

...and the finished mood boards...

...the second mood board.

The modelling exercise...

...using play-doh and wooden blocks

For more information on the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development and on the regeneration plans for the Blackbird Leys Central District, click on the blue links in the text above.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Foundation in the Built Environment: London Field Trip 2017

The School of the Built Environment offers a Foundation in the Built Environment (FBE). The course is designed to develop understanding and problem-solving skills in areas which are fundamental to the environment, design and development of cities. Students are introduced to a variety of subjects that, with the correct choice of modules, will allow progress to one of the undergraduate degree courses offered within the School of the Built Environment.

The FBE students went on a field trip to The City of London on 1 November. And this year, the weather was great (no rain, unlike the 2016 version of the trip). The field trip is part of the module 'Integrative and Contextual Studies' and allows students to explore the nature of the built environment and the parties and processes involved in building and maintaining it, as well as the bodies and factors influencing design and development.

At London Guildhall

The trip started at Guildhall in the City of London with a visit to The City Centre for a series of presentations about the developments taking place within the City of London. The first from Lettie McKie (Education Manager at The City Centre) about the development of London based around the City of London model, the second from Daryl Perry (Associate: Research, at Bilfinger GVA) and the third from Leonora Schofield (Management Surveyor at Broadgate Estates, and a graduate of Oxford Brookes).

The City of London model

Mike Stubbs introducing the presentations (with Daryl Perry on the right)

After the presentations the students visited the site on which they would base their presentation and written work. There were 7 sites altogether: Broadgate, Lloyds of London, No.1 Poultry, Aldermanbury Square, Paternoster Square, Millenium Bridge/Tate Modern and Bankside 123 - click on the blue links for more information. This year, the photos focus on Broadgate, Liverpool Street and Finsbury Avenue of other sites can be found on the field trip blog from 2016. The journey in photos...

From the Bank of England... on the street on Moorgate... the development taking place at 101 Moorgate.

And on to Finsbury Square...

...the location for Patio, a rotational pop-up restaurant.

Walking into the Broadgate development and Finsbury Avenue Square.

5 Broadgate... of the largest stainless steel-clad buildings in the world.

Broadgate: Finsbury Avenue Square...

...with lots of meeting and eating opportunities

Broadgate Circle...

...and a wider view

Walking back towards Liverpool Street Station

Development at 100 Liverpool Street...

...and Crossrail.

100 Liverpool Street from the other side...

...and a short walk to the area around Brick Lane.

Not on the brief, but a beautiful area of London...

...with some great street art.

Back through the City... Guildhall and the coach home. Most people fell asleep, but I didn't take any photos. Honest :)

Monday, 6 November 2017

MSc Historic Conservation: A Shropshire Miscellany

Students on the MSc Historic Conservation travelled to the Shropshire Hills last week for the annual October field trip. This remote upland region of the Welsh Marches, immortalised in AE Housman's A Shropshire Lad, has a rich architectural and archaeological legacy that its relative seclusion has helped to protect. Our aim: to see as much of it as possible in a single day…

From John Rocque's Actual Survey of the County of Salop (1743)

Our first visit was to Ludlow. This small market town, once the de facto capital of the Marches, is famed today for its superb historic townscape and its equally outstanding regional cuisine. (Alas, we didn't get much opportunity to sample the latter.) Perched on a hilltop at the confluence of the rivers Teme and Corve, Ludlow was founded in the late 11th century as part of the Anglo-Norman colonisation of the region, and became the regional seat of government as well as a centre for the lucrative wool trade. It is a classic example of a medieval planned town, its streets forming a compact grid encircled by walls and protected by the mighty castle of the De Lacy and Mortimer barons.

Ludlow Castle, etching after JM Turner 1831

Our walkabout examined the distinctive built form of the historic centre - much analysed by urban designers and morphologists - as well as the magnificent variety of the local architecture and materials: the huge red sandstone bulk of the late-Gothic parish church, the elaborate timber-framed merchants' houses and commercial buildings of the 15th-17th centuries, and the overlay of brick Classicism marking Ludlow's status as a fashionable retreat during the 1700s.

View of Broad Street, Ludlow with 13th century town gate

After an all-too-hurried lunch we moved on to Stokesay Castle. Built in the late 1200s by the local wool magnate Laurence of Ludlow, said at the time to be England's richest commoner, Stokesay is now this country's best-preserved example of a fortified medieval manor house. It is also an unforgettable spectacle, the gabled grey-stone hall with its flanking towers and yellow half-timbered gatehouse standing serene in its moat amid steep wooded hills by the banks of the small river Onny. Local specialist Stephen Treasure - of the venerable building firm Treasure and Son, established in Ludlow in 1747 - showed us round, explaining some of the conservation challenges he and his colleagues have faced in over 30 years of conservation work at the site.

Stephen Treasure explains the finer points of stone conservation at Stokesay Castle

Our final visit was to Titterstone Clee Hill. This 1700-foot summit, encircled by an immense Bronze Age enclosure of unknown purpose, has been an important site of human activity since prehistoric times, and its mineral-rich Carboniferous geology has been exploited since at least the Middle Ages as a source of iron ore, coal, sandstone, limestone and dolerite or 'Dhustone'. Guided by archaeologist Glynn Barrett of the Titterstone Clee Heritage Trust, we picked our way amid swirling fog across an eerie landscape of wild moorland, abandoned quarry workings and the wreckage of machinery, including an array of huge ferro-concrete rock-crushing plant that recalled the petrified remains of titanic robots.

Crusher and stone sorter in Titterstone West Quarry - an early (c.1915) example of reinforced concrete construction

This too is one of Housman's 'blue remembered hills'; but it hardly lends itself to the picture-postcard treatment. What, if anything, should be done to conserve this remarkable archaeological landscape - historically eloquent but aesthetically challenging, geographically remote and prey to vandalism, erosion and decay - for the future?

Conservation students in their element on Titterstone Clee Hill

Thanks to David Garrard for the report and photos. For more information about the MSc Historic Conservation click here:

Reports on the Planning and Urban Design Blog
Website for the MSc Historic Conservation

Monday, 16 October 2017

'These ruins are inhabited!’ Oxford’s endurance, decay and renewal

The Curiosity Carnival, a day-long research extravaganza run by Oxford University (and also involving researchers from Oxford Brookes) was held on Friday 29 September 2017. Across Oxford, there were live experiments, games, stalls, busking, debates, music, dance and guided tours looking at the city from various angles. The whole day was about taking research out into the public domain and engaging with people.

As part of the Curiosity Carnival, David Garrard, Senior Lecturer in Historic Conservation and leader of the MSc Historic Conservation at Oxford Brookes, led two guided tours around central Oxford. The tours looked at the phenomena of decay, persistence and renewal in the historic built environment and were based on his research on the philosophical basis for conservation and preservation. I went on the first of the tours and took a few photos (additional text by David Garrard). Click on the blue links for more information about the history of the sites we visited...

The start of the tour - outside the Museum of the History of Science

The Heads of the 'Emperors' outside the Sheldonian Theatre. Not as old as you think.

Look at them closely. They actually look quite cheeky and cartoon-like.
These versions (and the third set of heads) were made by the sculptor Michael Black and were completed in 1972They are often found to be adorned with various accessories
The present heads replaced an earlier set put up in 1868 to replace the 1660s originals.
Historic conservation is much concerned with authenticity and identity. But can a replica be authentic? Can a copy be identical with the original? Does it matter?

The Sheldonian Theatre itself was closed as the Oxford University 
graduation ceremonies were taking place inside. 

So we stood across the other side of Broad Street, outside the Weston Library
to discuss the history of the Sheldonian.

Built to Christopher Wren’s designs in 1664-9, the Sheldonian was originally (due to last-minute budget cuts) faced in poor-quality Headington freestone. This proved extremely vulnerable to the effects of weathering and pollution and by the 1900s the lavish Baroque exterior was blackened and crumbling to dustThe building was almost completely re-clad in new stone during the 1950s. The roof had already been wholly replaced a century earlier. Much of the timber interior has also been renewed. The Sheldonian recalls the so-called 'Ship of Theseus', replaced plank by plank until no part of the original fabric was left. Is it still the same object at the end as it was at the beginning? What do we mean by that phrase ‘the same’? 

...before heading off down Broad Street to see the Bridge of Sighs (Oxford version).

Which is over there... 

The Bridge of Sighs. Linking two parts of Hertford College. The bridge celebrated its centenary in 2014. Oxford’s bridge was based on the 17th-century Bridge of Sighs in Venice. There is also a similar bridge in CambridgeAnd what Cambridge has, Oxford has to have also.
Is this another of a copy, like the Emperors’ Heads? Or something different?

 David explains the history of Hertford College‘Hart Hall’ (a hall of residence, not a college) was founded here in 1282. It took the name ‘Herford College’ in 1740, but closed for lack of students in 1804. Another institution, ‘Magdalen Hall’, was transferred to the old Hertford buildings in 1818. Re-founded in 1874, it too re-branded itself as ‘Hertford College’. Most of its current buildings are from after this date. What is the relationship between these institutions? How old is Hertford College? 

This curious octagonal building, now part of Hertford, has its origins in a chapel set into one of medieval city gates. This the original 16th-century doorway. The rest of the building was changed beyond recognition over the ensuing centuries, when it was used as (among other things) a house, a cordwainer’s shop, a book bindery and a billiard hall. It was ‘restored’ to [what the architect thought might have been] its original appearance in the 1920s. Something old survives here. But what? 

More about the history of Hertford College.

Round the back of Hertford College and onto New College Lane.

Another enclosed bridge, this one built c.1600 to connect the Warden’s Lodge at New College with the guest lodgings and college barn across the street. During the Industrial Revolution many buildings in Oxford suffered from severe discolouration and decay. The burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, causes acid rain, which reacts with limestone to form a gypsum crustThis absorbs further pollution and may eventually crack and flake off, accelerating the deterioration of the stone behind. 

This side of the bridge, like the Sheldonian, has been re-faced to restore its original appearance. 

This building on New College Lane originally housed the college latrines.

St Edmund Hall (Teddy Hall) – another Oxford University institution with a complex past. 
We went in to discover...

Part of the old city wallLike most medieval cities, central Oxford was originally encircled by a high stone wall with bastions (like the one shown here) and fortified gates. The remaining portions of the wall are mostly well hidden and not widely known, even to residents, but it would once have been a defining feature of Oxford life. What is its significance today?

We walked down Queen's Lane and crossed over the High Street to get a good look at...

…the Queens's College. More than any other institution, Queen’s shows Oxford’s talent for combining continuity with metamorphosis. Founded in 1340, its original buildings were completely torn down in the early 18th century to make way for the present front quadrangle – now widely regarded as one of the triumphs of English Baroque architecture. This could never happen today. If it still stood, the medieval quadrangle – which seemed a mere old-fashioned inconvenience in 1700 – would be a treasured and carefully preserved part of Oxford’s heritage. Nowadays we tend to preserve the things we value. But this may mean we don’t get other things we might come to value even more. Is this a good bargain?

Queen’s is home to some of the most beautiful bus stops in Oxford

The end of the tour. And a first hand introduction to Oxford's issue with buses.

Back across the High Street for the next tour.

For more information about the MSc Historic Conservation at Oxford Brookes, click here.