UCLan Student Centre & University Square, Preston
Artist: Halima Cassell
Client: UCLan and Lancashire County Council
Designer(s): Planit-IE – Public Realm (areas owned by Lancashire County Council not UCLan). Plincke – UCLAN Innovation Centre (internals and externals)
Contractors: Bowmer+Kirkland (Main) – Bethell (Sub-Contractor) – BDP (Engineers)
Manufacturer: IP Surfaces Ltd
Supplier: Hardscape Products Ltd
Build: Hawkins\Brown (Architects)
The University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) stunning new £60 million Student Centre and University Square is now the focal point of the Preston Campus where the city’s first public square for 70 years has become the place for students and local communities to come together and enjoy many university and public events for years to come.
The focus of attention of the designed aesthetics of the Square itself are the bespoke benches and also the patterned walling that runs adjacent to the Student Centre. Preston-trained artist and sculptor Halima Cassell (who in 2021 was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours) was commissioned to design a series of applied ‘Industrial Art’ works based on her enduring interest in 3D tiling repeat patterns. Integrated directly into the actual design fabric of the public realm, these designs have formed the decorative embellishments to the granite used in retaining the ‘Miley Tunnel’ walling on Rodney Street and integrated seating sited around the university’s new square. These beautifully bespoke new benches were created collaboratively, with the artist working closely with Hardscape’s sister company IP Surfaces and the client team on a series of initial hand-drawn sketches which were re-interpreted to CAD-based setting-out drawings, from countless sampling of materials’ trialling methods of designs with IP Surfaces to establish if it were even possible to recreate the patterns technologically.
IP Surfaces were able to demonstrate that ‘anything is possible’ and pursued Halima’s vision to re-create her intricate patterns into 3D drawings in their state-of-the art facilities utilising production techniques such as CNC waterjet, laser-etched and sandblasting techniques, together with hand-skilled masons to create incredibly unique, bespoke, sculptured, surface-embellished features, to adorn the surroundings of University Square.
The new development is the culmination of UCLan’s Masterplan project, launched in 2015, which set out a vision to create a state-of-the-art, sustainable campus for students, staff, visitors, and surrounding communities for years to come.
The material used for the patterned walling was Kobra and Crystal Black granites with a combination of flamed, honed and polished waterjet-cut elements which gave a really striking contrast and dramatic aesthetic to the finished wall. For the Royal White granite benches IP Surfaces used their 5-Axis CNC using a router tool and then had stone masons finishing it off using manual hand cutters before it went into a sandblasting container to remove any saw marks. IP Surfaces went through many surface-embellishment processes to arrive at these finishes which, in collaboration with Halima, became a proven triumph for what can be made possible when vision becomes a reality.
With Halima’s visionary ideas of her patterns and designs, IP Surfaces were determined to make her dream a reality and went through many trials and tests to achieve the ‘hand carved appearance’ for the benches in particular with incredible attention to the surface shape, texture and finish. A testament to the collaboration involved and the combination of human skill, ingenuity, and technological advancement with stone material manipulation techniques.