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Science Cities workshop at Cambridge with LDA Design

Above: CGI of transformation of the Beehive shopping centre in Cambridge, with water gardens, planting, lawns and outdoor cinema (Courtesy LDA Design)

Future Cities Forum was treated to a lively and entertaining workshop centred on promoting an innovative approach to land-use led by Tom Perry, Head of the Cambridge Studio at LDA Design. Team participants at 'Science Cities' at Newnham College were tasked with producing a rapid cover story for their fictional news bulletin promoting a 'community of the future' or an 'ideal tech campus' or 'the growth or change of a city, town or village' to show 'pioneering change'. Teams were encouraged by mock-ups suggesting a 2030 publication 'Google moves HQ to Lincolnshire - 'Si-Lincoln Valley!' and asked to sketch an image to illustrate the vision and 'how success will be reported' in 3 years' time while describing the challenge that has been overcome, with the steps required to realise the vision, and the impact of the idea.

The teams reported back.

South Cambridgeshire Council Deputy Leader Cllr Brian Milnes, explained his team's response to the transport challenges in the city and region:

'People don't like giving up their cars. What can we substitute for getting to your place of work, and which disappears if you don't need it? We have come up with a 'No need to drive, freedom to thrive' transit system of transport pods that you can call via a neural network so that you get there quickly, and it disappears if you don't need it. Cambridge is one of the cleverest cities in the world but with one of the stupidest transport systems. This is the neural network inspired pod delivery system.'

Rob McGill, Sustainable Design Leader at HOK spoke from another team on addressing the housing crisis:

'Our idea is the 'Pod City' which is a response to the Net Zero emergency towards 2015 when the UK government realised what everyone else had realised which was that it would not hit its sixth budget in terms of carbon (reduction). Our industry response to that was a semi-scramble mode to MMC pod production (of housing), combining local production for local employment for local delivery to create local places for local communities, rapidly - realising that we have masses of housing stock needing overhaul, but we know that we have a massive deficit in housing. What you will see in the future is a very different appearance on how cities are designed, built and delivered.

Andy McNaught from economics consultancy Volterra spoke for a team which decided to address and transform Cambridge's transport problems:

'You can get to London in 45 minutes but it can take you the same time to get across the city. The city suffers from high levels of in-commuting and the ratio of workers to residents is much higher than a lot of places across the UK. Our big idea was multi-modal transport hubs connected to developments in outer locations where there would be facilities with lots buses, driverless cars and so on. The main impact would be to slash travel times and these would have a strong positive environmental impact.'

Sian Nash from The Property Board Cambridge University presented for the final team:

'Our concept is putting the 'water' back into Waterbeach - and the beach! This is really addressing the water challenge in Cambridge, the creation of a new reservoir which gives us, as well as more water, more infrastructure for sustainable travel to get to Cambridge so you can come to work on your electric punt! It helps with public health as it is active transport, and supports the economy. More fun, fitter people, clean water, ducks!'

Tom was able to show actual projects from the LDA Design portfolio which had transformed environments in London and Cambridge, including Battersea Power Station, T2 on the roof of the Google HQ in King's Cross, the Beehive Cambridge, and the very successful pedestrianisation of the Strand Aldwych. This project, co-led with Westminster City Council, has removed traffic lanes to create extensive public realm supporting a central part of the King's College London campus and providing a car-free approach for visitors to Somerset House and the Courtauld Institute, while opening up access to one of the capital's most famous churches, St Mary-le-Strand.

Above: the Strand Aldwych before the removal of traffic - looking east to St Mary-le-Strand (from LDA Design)

Tom described some of the projects, with a focus on people, community and biodiversity, that LDA Design has been working on. He said:

'Strand Aldwych was all about health and well-being. How do we improve the quality of life for the people living, working and studying around in the heart of London. The big idea was removing six lanes of traffic and giving the space back to people.

'Battersea Power Station was all about people, nature, re-invigorating a space and this project the 'Beehive' in Cambridge is being developed on an edge of centre, big box retail site. It's about a mix of uses - innovation space, living and retail. Public space is critical as it is where people come together. We are working with groups of people who have different aspirations for land use so sometimes that makes conflict. My job is to bring them together.

'We are having to make spaces work a lot harder, as with the King's Cross roof garden project, which has not just plants but space for people, bringing value to the owners, bringing biodiversity into the heart of the city. Land resources are so precious, so each site must work hard.

'We are also working on infrastructure for an energy provider. Solar farms must do more than just be panels in a field. What should the 21st century solar farm be? It must deliver for communities, food production and also nature and we must think about future communities. How can we make the best use of our land?'

Below: views of the Strand Aldwych after design interventions looking west towards Trafalgar Square, with Courtauld Institute and entrance to Somerset House on left


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