Walking In Belfield
With over 30,000 students dotted across its campus, University College Dublin is a place full of life and movement. One thing that all of these students experience in one form or another is this movement. Whether it be from the Science Block to the James Joyce Library, or from Richview to the Stillorgan Road bus stop every student has experienced walking through the campus of UCD. It was my daily quest into college that brought this subject of campus movement to my attention. Each day the 145 bus from Kilmacanogue drops me to the Stillorgan Road entrance to UCD. From there I am faced with a lengthy walk across the Belfield Campus to Richview which is located on the Clonskeagh side of UCD. With no clear path running straight from A to B my route across campus takes me through car parks, buildings and fields. Had I opted to avoid this “off-road” approach there are numerous paths and routes I could have chosen at the cost of time. It is this notion of time and distance and the role they play in the life of a student that formed the base for this research project.
My research began with the history of the university itself. UCD began as the Catholic University, founded in 1854 at which time its few buildings were spread across Dublin City. In 1908 it was given university status and work began on its properties including Earlsfort Terrace in St. Stephens Greens. In the book “UCD and it’s Building Plans”, the following was said on the topic of the universities facilities at the time, “In the matter of buildings, it would not be easy to name as ill provided as University College, Dublin, has been and is. The College is not an institution which has outgrown buildings that were at one time adequate, but one which, properly speaking, has never been built at all.” (Unknown Author, 1959) It was clear that the college was in need of a new location in order to accommodate the students of future generations. In the years between 1949-59 the college, with the help of the state, acquired 6 properties near their own Belfield Estate on the Stillorgan Road and began the process of moving the college.
I decided that before delving into the layout of the campus itself it would be beneficial to understand the lay of the land of the Belfield site prior to its inhabitation by UCD to see if any patterns emerge from historic routes and those laid down with the development of the campus. I came across this map of the Parish of Taney within which the site sits.
The map was drawn in 1865 and provides a lot of information with regards pathways and routes through the area. It also shows the array of “pleasing villias …… commanding interesting views of the city and bay of Dublin and the adjacent country.” (Lewis, 1837). These villas serve as a structure of sorts for the area. In the overlay below we can see the key houses that populate the perimeter of the site and the paths that intertwine them.
As the campus became possible with the purchasing of these period houses it is understandable that they would play a part in its formation. As I mentioned above the first house to be acquired by UCD was the Belfield house in 1933 (UCD University Relations, 2012). Before development started in 1959 the college had also bought Ardmore House, Merville House, Roebuck Grove and Belgrove House leaving them with the area indicated below with which to develop.
In 1955, in the process of convincing the government that Belfield was in fact the right site for the new campus, the Architectural Advisory Board of the College (AAB) prepared what they called the Belgrove Lay-out (Unknown Author, 1959). In this early plan the Ardmore house, Roebuck Grove and Belgrove House were left out and building was to take place on their grounds. The design consisted of diagrammatic blocks showing the size of the intended buildings on site in order to demonstrate that there is plenty of space to further develop the college. It also shows the first conceptualized layout for UCD.
Having being given the go ahead by the government in 1959 the University held a competition to design a master plan for the campus. It was won by a polish architect Ardrzei Wejchert and development began in 1964. The judges report stated that “The keynote of this design is the Author’s idea of arranging the various buildings at either side of a pedestrian mall of interesting and irregular shape…” (1972 – Administration Building).
“The basic idea of the plan is a linear development of the Campus with building linked together by covered ways along the pedestrian mall which becomes the life line of the campus. Building should be sited as close as reasonably possible to each other in order to maintain walking distance of approximately 500m (6 mins) between two ends of the pedestrian mall…” (A & D Wejchert 1998). Here we can see time and distance becoming a part of the design of the college with the architects sole aim being limitation. The ‘pedestrian mall’ was to become the spine for UCD and it would later determine all routes across the entire campus. It is positioned towards the centre of the site, leaving the peripheral planting untouched along with many of the existing houses. Similar to the 1955 plan by the AAB, the roads running through the campus seem to be determined by the existing tree lined channels spanning between these houses.
The Campus developed over the next thirty years with buildings from A & D Wejchert Architects and Scott Tallon Walker Architects. The University also purchased more land surrounding the campus including Roebuck Castle, Rosemount House and Richview House as well as a narrow pedestrian link to Roebuck Road (UCD University Relations, 2012). With the campus evolving and expanding, in 1998 A & D Wejchert Architects were commissioned to examine the progress made within the framework of the initial development plan and to also make proposals as to how to further plan for the future expansion of the college.
With the grounds of the college spanning further afield from its initial center developed in 1964, there was a possibility that the campus could become scattered across the vast landscape and lose sight of Wejchert’s concept of a ‘well composed dense core set in a beautiful parkland’ (A & D Wejchert 1998). This concentrated core allowed space for other necessary uses such as sports facilities, residences and research centers on the periphery of the site without losing the parkland ambiance.
In their report they describe the central pedestrian spine as “a vibrant street connecting all academic buildings” and insist that it “should not be allowed to become diluted. On the contrary – it should be reinforced.”. In discussing this further they say it “encourages social interaction between staff and students, shared facilities. ensures a concentration of services, reduces land use, allows access to all buildings by foot and the surrounding development helps provide sheltered and pleasantly scaled outdoor areas.” (A & D Wejchert 1998).
As highlighted on the below, the covered pedestrian way was to be extended on both sides so as to reach the sports centre and the student centre. It was also suggested that the canopy span out to meet the Stillorgan Road entrance. Neither of these extensions were built.
The existing landscape and vegetation influenced the initial design of the campus and maintaining the woodland of hardwoods was a major design intent. However the parkland suffered from the campus development and only a number of pockets of this woodland remained. Thus the preservation and rejuvenation of the landscape became a priority for future campus development.
This preservation played a pivotal role in the most recent campus development plan which was prepared by Murray O’Laoire Architects in 2005. It was commissioned in response to the UCD president Hugh Brady’s vision for the future of the campus. In the President’s Statement he said “The values that inform our current vision for the development of UCD’s Belfield Campus are those of openness, excellence in design and layout, expansiveness of landscaped areas and accelerated development of quality pedestrian walkways.” (Murray O’L, 2005)
During the Celtic Tiger years the campus expanded significantly, this meant that previous perceptions of the campus being remote and isolated were difficult to sustain. In acknowledging this the architects referred to this phase as the “next generation” of development committing themselves to addressing issues that had been neglected in previous development plans.
Even in this “next generation” the pedestrian was a defining character in the evolution of the campus. A & D Wejchert strived for a central core to the campus and Murray O’Laoire furthered this core by creating a central pedestrian zone. Car parks were to be positioned around this zone in such a way that the all areas of the campus are within a 5 minute walking distance. (Murray O’L, 2005)
Progressing this idea of a pedestrian friendly campus is the introduction of more sheltered pedestrian routes. Celtic Tiger campus development led to the construction of stand alone pavilion buildings which created some unfortunate pedestrian environments. The architects solution to this is to elaborate on the original 1964 concept of the central spine by adding more secondary spines along the east-west axis connected by numerous north-south malls.
I thought it would be a good exercise to take stock of the development of these pedestrian routes at this stage to better understand the key aspects that remain in the design of today’s campus. Below is an overlay of the pedestrian routes at the three stages of this study, the Taney Parish Map, the 1998 A & D Wejchert Development Plan and the 2005 Murray O’Laoire Development Plan. What is most interesting is the retention of the existing routes into the site at Meville, Roebuck Castle, Richview, Roebuck House and the narrow path from Roebuck Road. As mentioned above this was more than likely down to the mature trees that lined these passages.
Another interesting progression to be noted is that which took place between the 1998 and 2005 development plans. As you can see from the blue line (above), the pedestrian routes now spread to the peripheries of the site. This was largely due to the UCD President Hugh Brady’s agenda to “see a more-than-tenfold increase in the boundary woodland” (Murray O’L, 2005). The architects shared this passion for the woodland that once encased the historic estates and believed its preservation and enhancement to be crucial to maintaining the character of the site. This peripheral woodland path was to become a feature in the future of the campus serving as a jogging, cycle and walking track.
These peripheral paths became known as the Woodland Walks. A leaflet was prepared in 2013 outlining these walks. There are four individual routes that combine to create one Boundary Woodland Walk. As these paths traverse the landscape of the historic estates it is only fitting that they are named after them. The total length of the perimeter walk is 6.2km and can be completed in 60-70 minutes. As you can see both the Rosemount and Belfield walks have a direct overlap with the historic planting from 1865 while the Millennium and Glenomena walks retain most of the planting around the boundary of the area. (UCD University Relations, 2013)
Having gained a clear understanding of the history behind the site and how it influenced the design of the campus I decided to conduct a study of a series of routes within UCD. The aim of the study was to record and represent the distance and time of certain walks through the campus and compare them to a route that is unobstructed by the built environment and therefore the shortest and most direct. This follows on from my original queries about whether the campus facilitates the movement of students or in fact hinders it with its overall design.
I took five major buildings within UCD (Richview, Newstead, Sports Centre, Engineering, Quinn School) and navigated 3 routes from each. One to the Stillorgan Road bus stop, one to the core of the campus previously determined by A & D Wejchert, and a final route to the narrow passage to Roebuck Road. By calculating the time it takes to travel these routes and comparing the results to the time for the shortest distance we will be able to better understand the workings and failings of the designed pedestrian network on campus.
The results are shown below.
As A & D Wejchert predicted, Richview lacks a clear pedestrian connection to the campus due to its separation from the central core. This results in meandering unsheltered paths which add to the already lengthy walk. However with the introduction of the Woodland Walks, Richview is becoming more connected to the Belfield side of campus.
Similar to Richview, as it was not part of the original 1964 development plan, Newstead has become an isolated entity.
The Sports Centre sits right on the edge of the campus core and so benefits from its pedestrian spine. We begin to see the successes of this pedestrian network with journey times close to the optimum.
The pedestrian routes from both the Engineering Building and the Quinn School are extremely efficient highlighting once more the quality of the original campus core design.
The study confirmed what was feared by A & D Architects in 1998. The dense pedestrian network of the original campus has become diluted with the addition of new buildings to the perimeter of the site. It is these buildings that suffer most from their disconnection to the central core but the campus design as a whole is also weakened.
What the research of the Belfield Campus uncovered was that the woodland of the historic estates had a major influence on the design of the pedestrian network. Over time the campus became segregated with bursts of unplanned isolated development. It is hoped that the development of the Woodland Walks can bring coherence to the ever expanding campus.
1972 – Administration Building, University College Dublin, Co. Dublin. Available from <http://archiseek.com/2010/1972-administration-building-university-college-dublin-co-dublin/#.UrDccmRdX88> (15 December 2013)
A & D Wejchert (1998). University College Dublin Belfield Campus Development Plan 1998. Dublin. University College Dublin.
Lewis, Samuel (1837). A topographical Dictionary of Ireland. Volume 1. London: S. Lewis & Co.
Murray O’L (2005), University College Dublin Campus Development Plan 2005-2010-2015. Dublin. University College Dublin.
Ordinance Survey (1865). The Parish of Taney. Dublin Parish Maps. 25” to one statute mile. Dublin. Ordinance Survey Office.
UCD University Relations (2012). Origins of the Belfield Campus and UCD’s Period Houses. Leaflet. Dublin. UCD University Relations
UCD University Relations (2013). Campus Walks Map and Guide. Leaflet. Dublin. UCD University Relations
Unknown Author (1959). UCD and its Building Plans. Dublin: Browne & Nolan Ltd.
By David O’Mahony