Design review case study: Angel Field

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The latest from the design review panel at the North West's architecture centre, Places Matter!

When Liverpool Hope University appointed BCA Landscape to design a series of gardens to tie together a group of disparate buildings, the brief could scarcely have been more ambitious.

Prof Pillay, the vice chancellor, was eager to see the work as a series of Renaissance gardens; there were serious constraints in terms of traffic noise and the existing buildings, and the opportunity to do something really lush and special.

The scheme, called Angel Field after a farm that had once been on the site, would not only provide space for recreation but give a unifying identity to the university's creative campus.

Angel Field"One of the key things that came out was the idea of a narrative, of a journey," said Andy Thomson of BCA. But the project was almost too exciting, and when the team took it for design review by Places Matter!, there was criticism of its complexity, and a feeling that the routes through it were not clear enough. Having praised the 'lyrical, poetic aspiration' the first review then raised the 'fear that the desire for sensory richness may have overtaken the need for a robust and understandable space tying together the disparate architecture'. It also found that some of the individual gardens could act almost as a barrier to people passing through the site. As a result, the design team took the scheme away, simplified it and brought it back for a second design review. This noted a great improvement, although still finding areas for improvement which BCA also took on board.

"We are pretty open people," said Thomson. "It was great to have people who saw it with fresh eyes. There was a plethora of ideas and concepts. We were able to weed out the things that weren't quite right in that process. It helped us to identify the more relevant and key ideas."

The final, simplified scheme was planted early in 2010 and, said Thomson: "It is looking amazing."

Design review had not made him compromise on the ambition to have a rich and special space, but had helped turn it into something that could be realized, enjoyed and maintained.

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