Private practice challenge students to design a stage for public life

Zheng, Harriet and Abel with their winning design for Tower Works

Students from the Department of Landscape recently experienced a taste of professional Landscape Architectural life when they took on the task of creating a redesign for Tower Works, a former industrial site in the heart of Leeds.

The two-day design challenge, which took place on 7 and 8 November, brought together Landscape students across all year groups to work with four members of the award-winning firm OOBE.

The event was designed to give undergraduates and postgraduates experience of working with industry and was a unique opportunity in the academic year for students to collaborate with and learn alongside those on other courses. Around 70 students took part in the challenge.

Day one of event the saw students braving the elements to visit Tower Works, a 1.13 ha former industrial site on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Currently a live project for OOBE, it forms an important part of the Leeds skyline and incorporates the listed Verona, Giotto and Little Chimney towers.

Although the site has been vacant for decades the students were tasked with finding a way to create a design that would draw people to it and bring the site back into people’s daily lives. To provide a focus they were divided into small groups, each tackling one of four themes: water, wind, windows and walking & wellbeing.

Day two took place back in the Arts Tower studios, where the students set to work, dissecting their initial thoughts and experiences on site.

Sophie Tombleson, Senior Landsape Architect at OOBE said: “with such a short timeframe we wanted them to capture and run with their instincts, what made the site special and what stood out for them. We encouraged them to think beyond the site plan, and consider ways to express their concepts quickly; it was refreshing to see students working with paper, fabric, even a flapjack to convey their ‘Big Idea’.”

Whole school design project Whole School Design Project
Whole School Design Project Whole School Event

“It was interesting to see how each of the groups chose to showcase their work and which points they focused on. It was great practical experience for them in how to capture a client’s attention and sell the scheme in such a short time frame – a great real life skill to acquire! It was a joy to work with the students for the two full days. The team at OOBE were really inspired by the students bold ideas and quick thinking.”

Having finalised their designs over the course of the second day, the groups were then required to pitch their ideas to the team from OOBE and the best project from each theme was awarded a prize.

Organiser of the event Andy Clayden said: “this year’s project demanded a strong and inventive conceptual response to the design brief that had been set by Mike Goodhall and his staff at OOBE for the Tower Works site in Leeds. What was especially noticeable was how ideas and proposals evolved rapidly in response to discussion within groups and with staff from OOBE and the Department. There was strong evidence of real ambition in the design thinking that would, if developed and taken forward provide very imaginative and original Landscape Architecture proposals. The take-home message for everyone that took part was how important it is to bring this energy and willingness to experiment and explore ideas right from the very start of a project.”

Evie Osborn, a BA Landscape Architecture student said: “working with OOBE gave us a fantastic insight into working on an active site, whilst the design brief gave us freedom to be ambitious without design constraints. Collaborating with students at different levels generated a vast amount of ideas over the short time period.”

Kate Peel, an MA Landscape Architecture student said: “what I personally took from the event was that Landscape firms value your input as a student at The University of Sheffield. Having opportunities to think about the world of landscape in a professional context this early is a wonderful advantage that not all courses can offer.”

The intensive design challenge involved the input of many Department of Landscape staff members, both in visiting the site in Leeds and preparing the Arts Tower studios and design materials.

Andy Clayden said: “this was a real team effort and the event could not have happened without input from staff including Cathy Dee, Sally O’Halloran, Thom White, Laurianne Chalmin-Pui, Paul Buck and Jonathan Woodward.”

“We are also indebted to Abi, Kirstin, Sophie and Mike from OOBE for giving our students such valuable, first-hand experience of designing landscape for a live site.”

OOBE have written a report on the event which can be read here: Part 1. Part 2.