‘Kent Walk’ revamp earns top design award

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It’s not re-labelled on official campus maps – not yet, anyhow – but the pedestrian-priority stretch of Kent Drive that fronts University College has transformed to Kent Walk in everything but name.

Sealing the deal is this month’s announcement the plaza has been awarded a prestigious design/landscaping award.

No longer a chaotic zone where pedestrians dodged drivers seeking short-term parking spaces, the area has metamorphosed into an open-air plaza and reading garden – a showpiece first act in Western’s Open Space Strategy that gives priority to pedestrians.

The design and execution by London architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson won an award for best Public Space & Landscape at the biennial London Urban Design Awards last week.

“There was a lot of talk about what our first big project would be in the open-space plan,” said Mike McLean, Director (Facilities Planning and Design). “We recognized that there needed to be a project that could set the tone for everything that follows in the open-space plan.”

The renewal and expansion of University College at the same time made this project an ideal fit, he said.

“It’s not just replacing asphalt with paving stones. It’s a comprehensive approach.”

The issues with Kent Drive in front of University College had been myriad. With parking for 45 vehicles, there was constant concern that pedestrians were at risk; lighting was poor; vegetation was overgrown; and the overall feel was dated.

The revamp included:

  • Closing the area to vehicles and re-emphasizing its role as a pedestrian passageway;
  • Replacing scraggly, overgrown trees with new ones;
  • Adding stone pavers throughout (including some reclaimed from work done at Althouse College a few years earlier);
  • Replacing the concrete steps with large natural pavers;
  • Adding pedestrian-level lighting;
  • Refurbishing light bunkers to focus nighttime light on the Memorial Tower;
  • Building a new retaining wall at seating height;
  • Installing wood benches; and
  • Adding a barrier-free reading garden with new plantings and red furniture.

Working with Tillmann Ruth Robinson on the project were Arthur Lierman Landscape Architecture, Yuna Hur Lighting Design and Western’s Facility Services.

As a result of the changes, University College has an enhanced role as the aesthetic focal point of campus.

“It’s being used in ways we could not have anticipated,” McLean said.

At least one wedding proposal has taken place there; it’s a magnet for photographs at Convocations and the Western Marching Band has warmed up there before heading to football games.

London’s Urban Design Awards take place every two years. They’re intended to inspire developers, architects, landscape architects, planners and designers to advance excellence in their own projects.

The two-year University College redevelopment, also led by architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson, was a nominee in the Buildings Category. Work entailed updating and expanding the iconic 100-year-old iconic building to modernize it inside and out while at the same time enhancing its iconic status as emotional heart of the campus.

Also nominated in the Buildings Category of the awards was the new Amit Chakma Engineering Building and altered Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel, a project of  Perkins+Will Canada in association with Cornerstone Architecture Incorporated.

The LEED Platinum building, itself an engineering achievement, has become a gateway to Western’s large Engineering complex and features light-filled social spaces, an atrium and well-equipped labs.