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Retro for Universities?

Will University campuses on the fringe be the test-tube for suburban renewal and innovation? 

Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting suburbia (http://www.ted.com/talks/ellen_dunham_jones_retrofitting_suburbia.html)Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting suburbia (http://www.ted.com/talks/ellen_dunham_jones_retrofitting_suburbia.html)Posted by: Andrew Hammonds


In her TED talk Ellen Dunham-Jones fires the starting shot for a huge design project: retrofitting suburbia. Dying malls rehabilitated, dead "big box" stores re-inhabited and parking lots transformed into thriving wetlands.

Ellen's retrofitting proposition was central to my discussion with the Facilities Branch of a University. We concluded that the future is bright for the 'embedded' campuses. Integrated into existing (or planned) centres, they are well serviced by public transport. Hence, opportunities to deliver placemaking outcomes, including urban design, and 'easy wins'. 

The Facilities Branch also manage several isolated suburban campuses, established in the 1970's. I acknowledged the challenges at these campuses - "necessity... is the mother of invention". We agreed that transport needs to be an integral part of the solution. 

Freitag - Geroldstrasse 17 8008, Zürich, Switzerland. The FREITAG Flagshipstore is completely built from rusty, recycled freight-containers. They were gutted, reinforced, piled up and secured. Zurich’s first bonsai-skyscraper: Low enough not to violate the city’s restriction on high-rise buildings. High enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine.Freitag - Geroldstrasse 17 8008, Zürich, Switzerland. The FREITAG Flagshipstore is completely built from rusty, recycled freight-containers. They were gutted, reinforced, piled up and secured. Zurich’s first bonsai-skyscraper: Low enough not to violate the city’s restriction on high-rise buildings. High enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine.In the short term I also suggested Placemaking ideas to build vitality and make money from their campuses: 
  • buildings for small spaces - what can you do within the existing footprint, eg 3 storey town homes with separate units on the ground floor;
  • gritty and grungy - look at temporary installations for cafes, shops, businesses, etc;
  • place management - social fabric to encourage people to be there (free space for artists, markets, community garden, public art, etc);
  • retro is hip! - celebrate the 70's and 80's;
  • capital spending to focus on delivering private sector opportunities; and
  • consolidate the triple bottom line approach to sustainability - not just trees.

Since this presentation Andy Sharpe and his team at Curtin University have been developing AND implementing the Place activation plan. The main campus is being transformed into a lively cultural hub that better connects the University with the broader community. Place activation changes are bringing Curtin campus to life - food trucks Park'd Food Trucks @ Curtin and performers Park'd Performers @ Curtin, and other events like the Outdoor Cinema and the monthly Sunday Markets under the Pines. 

ANU has a residential facility constructed from stacked shipping containers. From the photos I've seen it looks a little too... nice? What about learning spaces built from dirty old shipping containers?

Should suburban universities celebrate their origins and create a unique point of difference? 

Updated: Wednesday 29 January 2014

Written: Thursday 2 February, 2012

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