Green Heart, University of Birmingham, UK

Green Heart, University of Birmingham, UK

Recent news headlines have detailed fears of the spread of Covid-19 among university students and the mental distress of living on locked down campuses, isolated from friends and family with just laptop learning and social media for human interaction.

This has emphasised the importance of outdoor public spaces within campus life and providing areas for students to work and socialise safely. The Green Heart - the University of Birmingham's largest estate project to date, does a fantastic job of addressing our 'new' outdoor social demands.

Green Heart, University of Birmingham, UK

Designed by landscape architect Church­man Thornhill Finch, the striking 12-acre public park connects the historic Edgbaston campus with student residences. The design exploits an 8m level change and various topographic features to create a network of intersecting paths, lawns, and zoned spaces for study, relaxation, and outdoor learning.

The southern end of the site is a key route across the university, and students regularly spill out of the library into the night. Open all week, 24 hours a day, lighting was an essential feature of the scheme.

Lighting designers Speirs + Major took a sensitive and sustainable approach, balancing light and dark to facilitate freedom of movement while enabling richly varied opportunities for night-time interaction and outdoor learning.

Speaking to The RIBA Journal, Philip Rose, Senior Associate and Group Leader at Speirs Major, comments, "After students and staff returned to university in the autumn, much of the time they see the campus after dark, so it was important to create a positive and welcoming lit experience."

"However, the sheer scale of the site dictated a targeted approach, with a focus on illumination to support navigation and define areas' of dwell'. One of the big questions was where we didn't light. We had to use lighting judiciously," added Chris Churchman, Founder and Director at Churchman Thornhill Finch.

A glowing halo of light surrounds the new Library Square's central lawn. Combined with the primary circulatory routes' lighting, it makes the park's interlinking spaces legible after dark, supporting orientation.

In the darker landscaped zones, routes are revealed through low-level light only. The central zones are permeated by softly lit tertiary transverse routes, with punctuation in the form of strong highlights to objects.

Answering the design requirements, LUMINO Vector V12S luminaires were installed into the benches' undersides, and stone steps along the sides of paths to cast diffuse light onto the ground. They also provide the soft halo of light around the raised central lawn in Library Square. These focal points aid confident navigation and offer students and visitors an atmospheric place to meet and socialise.

The bridge features a dramatic vertical lit effect created also with the LUMINO V12S luminaires concealed within handrail balustrades at regular intervals and alongside ramps and steps. The accents are also used to highlight the staircases and selected pathways. The space is fully inclusive in terms of accessibility.

The LUMINO V36I Optic luminaires were used to uplight the timber cladding at the front of the café area.

All circulation routes, planting, and interaction areas are lit in warm white light to evoke a relaxing character similar to an outdoor living room.

Project credits

  • Client: University of Birmingham
  • Lighting Designer: Speirs Major
  • Structural Engineers: Arup
  • Landscape Architect: Churchman Landscape Architects
  • Contractor: Willmott Dixon
  • Photographer: James Newton