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New infrastructure and place-making for 'science cities'

CABI head-quarters in Wallingford, Oxfordshire (Scott Brownrigg)

This week, Future Cities Forum asked questions about how new infrastructure and smart city travel could influence the improved design of our 'overheating science cities.'

In our forum involving Transport for the West Midlands, LDA Design, Stride Treglown and Scott Brownrigg, we gave a focus to the developing science cities of Birmingham and Cambridge to look at streamlining transport systems and improving place-making. We also looked at the design of the R&D campus, at the sustainability of design and the ability to brand the UK as an innovation leader through the built environment.

Preserving the attractiveness of science cities to attract and retain talent was taken up by LDA Design's Head of Cambridge Studio, Tom Perry. LDA-Design is asking for community views on a re-development of the historic market square in the centre of Cambridge. Tom said:

'Cambridge does have a future vision of being green and connected and improving cultural life, so quality of (outside) space is important as a way of attracting people back to the centre post Covid-19. The market in the centre of the city is a fantastic space, but we need this space to work harder. There are lots of issues - for instance the facilities for traders need improving, along with basic repairs and maintenance, but there are amazing buildings round the site which we need to show off.

'The city council asked us about the vision and way the site is used which is a functioning market square used on a daily basis but the space around this needs to be more flexible. So the question is, how can we create a space where things are moved around a bit and have some fantastic events there? It is a wide central seating area with the market stalls taken back to create seating and somewhere for people to sit and watch the world go by. The lighting needs upgrading and the whole space de-cluttering. We need to make this an inclusive space which people in wheelchairs can access while protecting the historic paving.

'A lot of city centres are concentrating on greening, our climate is changing and urban centres are getting hotter each year. We have de-mountable stalls and covered areas for eating night or day whatever the weather. It's about flexibility, multi functional space that is beautiful, which can be a key driver post-Covid-19 of getting people back to the centre of cities. There is a nervousness around going out to shops, and while people readily buy online, the vibrancy of (physical) markets like Cambridge can help to drive footfall.

'LDA-Design has been involved in helping to protect the green belt, ensuring the city retains that atmosphere and quality of life, but there are pressures on housing. Places like Waterbeach, and other such new towns and villages with landscape led- public realm are the way forward. The question with outdated science and business park models is how to connect them into the city and the answer to that is to use landscape that fosters integration.'

'Steve Hayes, Head of Network Transformation, Transport for the West Midlands stated that there can never be too much collaboration from science park owners and universities in forging new ideas for transport connectivity:

'We are working with partners to develop good connective transport systems, on solutions that work for them for their sites. If you try to force solutions on them, it probably won't work. You need to understand where they work and live and why they are travelling, It can be quite hard work but we have the resources to do that. Embedding behaviour is difficult, as it is all too easy to jump in the car, and it's the easy option. We are working on demand responsive marketing to make ticketing easier. One piece of research we are carrying out with Warwick University is micro-mobility, around the testing of scooters.'

'Certain technology is there, so we can employ robots. In Milton Keynes we have used these for delivery and supermarkets - it's not science fiction but real life stuff although it is hard to replace the human contact that customers prefer like the contact with bus drivers. We need to work with these (technology) companies to solve real life problems.

'We are moving towards how investment in national road systems aligns with climate commitments. The investment is there in transport, HS2 for example, where the Midlands and North have lots of support to solve challenges in transport. We have now had investment in the national bus strategy, which has never been the case before. However, there is the necessity for more money if the government wants to reach those ambitions.'

The importance of designing sustainable laboratories as well as connected public spaces on science parks and universities was described by Stride Treglown's Divisional Director and Head of Universities, Cora Kwiatkowski:

'It is crucial to bring the UK university building design forward for researchers. Spaces supporting the 'thinking outdoors' model are as important as the buildings themselves. Well-being is essential. For the larger campus, the quality of design has to be there - not just the daylight but views out and the spaces to bring people together.

'There needs to be a variety of spaces and future proofing of buildings, flexibility of labs as well as providing all the technicalities and spaces where researchers can meet. We have just completed a £55 million University of Reading 'Health and Life Sciences teaching zone' project with spaces to meet and it is in use and very successful. The softer side of things where people can come together is important and they do want to do that.

'We need to create the right identity with our university buildings but make sure they can be refreshed, with the re-using of buildings to improve sustainability. It isn't just the visual factor but the layout, so people want to come to them, otherwise they become unloved and less and less people want to use them. Retrofit is important, an old lab can be used for an admin office for example, but just pulling the building down gives you a really bad carbon rating.'

The new headquarters of CABI, the international science intergovernmental organisation in Wallingford Oxfordshire has pushed the sustainability agenda higher up in its orientation and concentration on biodiversity. Ed Hayden, Director at Scott Brownrigg:

'How do you create science and innovation spaces that are truly sustainable and low carbon? The form of the CABI building is all about that. The curve shape has no east and west elevations so does not get low level sun. It is determined by orientation and solar performance. The roof is bio diverse and increases that of site where plants sweat in the sun to provide the cooling of the building below, which in turn acts as long term protection of the building fabric. In the future, embracing environmental strategies you will see more buildings with mass timber systems that reduce carbon sequestration into building fabric. This will be a big thing in the future, with a greater focus on 'carbon in operation'. The functions around lab spaces, atria for example, can be naturally ventilated and treated. In the CABI building we have guarded window vents where air can get in. I think people like the technology and being in control of their environment.'

Tom Perry added:

'The Cambridge Science Park is well located next to North Cambridge train station and this master planning frees up all sorts of space that was once used for car parks. Space where we can add new features into the landscape to make places more attractive. This kind of planning is crucial to the successful development of future places. The key is to make better use of landholdings. Do we design for demand or start to design to change behaviours? Three to four years ago there wasn't the thinking that people would be using electric scooters but now the cycle schemes in Waltham Forest can be seen as very successful. I think it is all about a gentle nudge.

'Some years ago the development of Cambourne near Cambridge didn't work well for transport, but LDA-Design has been embedded in the thinking for protecting the green belt around Cambridge with good connectivity for new housing areas, which allows for the tight urban grain of the city and heritage to remain intact.'

Ed Hayden pointed out that keeping science cities alive and interesting was about creating mixed-use spaces, creating a 24 hour appeal in the business parks by putting in housing and creating homes in the science campus, to prevent them becoming dead and deserted at night.

Poundbury, Tom Perry, said has a good mix of jobs and people in it and it was a far cry from the mono culture of the 60's and 70's. Careful management of place allows for inclusiveness and the feeling of safety.

Cora Kwiatkowski added that she felt universities were getting better at understanding their surrounding context and the 'civic campus', allowing the outside in, realising that people wandering around might be their next intake of students.

Steve Hayes concluded the discussion by saying that the wealth of data coming out of smart ticketing solutions could point to such sustainable transport design with options to create better places. But he warned that there are decades of bad development to tackle and scores of new homes being built without facilities or connectivity:

'There are whole avenues to explore with how data can be used and to encourage people to adopt new transport ideas. Transport isn't an end in itself but it can and will help to develop more sustainable lifestyles.'

Join our or our 6th July 'Sustainable Cities' which follows on from this important research forum.



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