More than a building

By Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for New Campus Development

In May I wrote about the experience of seeing the sun rise from Platform 15 at Temple Meads for the first time since the 1920s, following the demolition of the former Royal Mail Sorting Office. This week the University of Bristol has published new plans for that site.

Importantly, alongside two major buildings, these include major public spaces leading to a new Eastern entrance to Temple Meads planned by Network Rail. That entrance will be under the selfsame Platform 15, on the level of both the site and the thoroughfare running under the platforms.

The planned site has plentiful seating and is greened by trees sheltering those walking and cycling across it. The harbourside frontage is envisaged as having many more trees to create a green corridor linking the existing Totterdown basin waterside and neighbouring spaces. The sustainability ambitions of the University are manifested in a building that provides its own energy and links to the city’s district heat network – all while harvesting rainwater and solar energy across its roof.

The designs portray what a day in the life of the new campus at Temple Quarter might look like – from the dawn light through the glazed panels of the interior gardens to the twilight images of the public space passing under and through the main building. This reminds us that this is a part of the city that could and should be lively and used out of hours.

While the consultation is about the physical redevelopment of a site that has lain derelict for a generation, the bigger story is how the city, its enterprises and communities and the University can work together there to develop their futures for the better.

As I write this column, I am attending a conference debating the value of universities to the cities, regions and society they are in. It is a debate that reveals a range of great work going on in cities around the world. There is strong recognition in the room of the merit of engaging with the people and organisations in a place and to do so with respect, to create mutual and sustained benefit. Some at the conference referred to the value created by student and staff volunteering, others to the opportunities created by positive recruitment, living wage and responsible procurement policies – all things we do here in Bristol. In discussions, we sought to define how universities could learn from and discover with their civic partners and be fair, respectful and relevant in so doing. The new campus building offers venues such as the Story Exchange and the Bristol Rooms just for these cooperative activities.

In this consultation with our city, we want to hear what you think of our development plans. We will want to sustain the dialogue over the years to come, because we will not only develop the site, but be there to live, work, play and learn with and for our city over the decades to come.

You can see our plans, share your view and find more details about our consultation events here.

We Are Not a Single Species: Behind the scenes

Paul Hurley, one of our artists in residence, has created a collaborative film investigating the heritage of Temple Quarter and the human and nonhuman communities that inhabit the area. The piece will be on display 20-21 September at SPACE6 West Street, Old Market. 

There are many things that connect us in Bristol – different worlds, experiences, identities and perceptions bridge the gaps between us. Paul’s creation is designed to unpack this and introduce us to a new way of seeing our world. 

“We live in entanglements of human and nonhuman worlds, of pasts, presents, and many possible futures. My approach to the residency was to explore some of these, to tease out some of the tangled threads that connect different worlds to a new university campus in the city.” – Paul Hurley

Cinemadography: Barney LaBeija filming on a GoPro

While filming, Paul spent some time around the University and at the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus building site. To capture the nonhuman perspective in these areas, his four-legged companion Barney donned a GoPro and set off exploring. Often led by Barney’s nose, Paul captured footage he might never have chosen himself. He said, “There were elements of a situationist dérive, an artistic drift around the city, unsure where we and the camera were being taken.” 

As part of the piece, others were invited to collaborate in ‘walk and talks’ with a nonhuman of their choice – human participants included university staff, members of the public and people living and working near Temple Quarter. Recording the conversations, they walked with a range of nonhumans from the weather and Carlo the cat to Siri and the plants of the University’s botanic garden. 

Paul explained that by combining the dog-filmed footage with a collage of audio from the walks, our expectations of looking at the city were disrupted.” In the exhibition on 20-21 September, each visitor will experience a unique combination of sound and visual – reflecting the serendipity of the filming itself. An audio track of the ‘walk and talk’ conversations together with three screens showing individual videos are all different lengths, creating intersecting spirals of film instead of loop. 

They operate like the layers of conversation, history and experience that accumulate in articulating the world (or worlds) of the Temple Quarter. These worlds, like us, are multiple, they are separate but entangled. We are not – and can never be – a single species.” – Paul Hurley 

 

‘We are not a single species’, by Paul Hurley. Film by Paul Hurley and Paul Samuel White, cinemadography by Barney LaBeija, copyright Paul Hurley 2019.  

With thanks to all human and nonhuman participants.