Anyone who has been along Northampton’s riverfront from Southbridge to Beckett’s Park will have been wondering about it for quite some time… what lies across that snaking, swooping, footbridge? What does the Waterside campus actually look like?
The planning and building has been going on for years, you can be sure there are still plenty of niggles to sort out but the students will soon be arriving for studies at Waterside.
Almost two years ago I interviewed UoN Vice Chancellor Nick Petford about the project and he was confident it was on target and on time. He was talking about a new kind of education in a ‘blended learning environment’ in which lecture theatres are replaced by an open organic space that changes use depending on need.
But beyond the interesting new era it heralds for Northampton’s academics, the community as a whole will find a new foot and cycle route into and out of town.
The Waterside buildings sit in a landscape in which the human being is prioritised over the car.
Car parking is at the periphery with avenues and squares finished in grey and off-white paving blocks.
The architecture all round is a decent compromise between modern and traditional. Exotic curves and lines in metal and glass are offset with neat brickwork, or louvred panels reminiscent of shutters.
The Engine Shed, a relic of the area’s former use as railway sidings and now revived as a student union facility, is a good example of the synergy of old and new going on at Waterside.
Meanwhile the planting and landscaping is at an advanced stage with sculptures, seating and not least plenty of places to lock bicycles – a much overlooked amenity in Northampton that would be a simple and inexpensive way of encouraging more bike use.
Even before the students had arrived on the sunny Sunday afternoon I visited there were plenty of people enjoying a stroll through the grounds which should please the Vice Chancellor, who was looking at Waterside as a way to open UoN out to the community literally.
Beckett’s Park is now connected to Delapré via an uplifting and inspiring environment. There is still plenty to get right along Northampton’s river front but Waterside harkens back to plans discussed in the 90s for a series of bridges over the Nene connecting a cultural and leisure playground.
The scheme from Northampton born architect Will Alsop was poo-pooed as pie in the sky at the time but what he was suggesting was not a million miles from what we’ve got…