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Union Corner - A community centre with a reverence for life

The Union Corner Community project was the founding project of the local community group Nudge Builders with the dream of transforming and bringing life and community spaces to a neglected and virtually abandoned city centre area in Plymouth. Billboards were erected in the area with the message “love Union Corner”! Grass roots and crowd funded with support from the local council,the project is currently in its final stage of development which includes a low cost living wall surrounding both the building and the enclosed garden utilizing a wire trellis system. The community centre spaces are now fully booked throughout the year and Nudge has used this model to secure three further adjacent properties down the street. This type of development model has been recognized and copied by other cities throughout the UK.

The brief for the project included a ground floor multi use space and two urban gardens. The gardens were to be open and welcoming while at the same time providing privacy and security.

The emphasis on the design was from a biophilic perspective. In this context, biophilic design can be described as a type of design that has “a reverence for life”. The building construction focuses on connecting people to nature through its use of materials and its design. In addition, the green wall increases biodiversity and the green plot ratio by benefiting the local bees, butterflies and insects while also cleaning the air pollution from passing trucks and cars and helping to regulate the internal temperature (on the shop front) and protect the facade.

The biodiversity benefits might at first appear minimal. Why biodiversity?

What’s being lost with the extinction crisis, or the biodiversity crisis, is not just species but their interactions.

So what's the big deal if we have less insects or or plants?

When you lose a particular insect or butterfly or plant-

you lose more than something beautiful in the natural world

you lose more than "a resource"

you lose an interaction.

you lose a critical link in a system of life

you lose an understanding and possible future knowledge

of what the earth is and our place in it.

The benefits to visitors include handcrafted timber elements (including tactile handles produced by local artists and craftspeople) are fixed into a low cost backdrop of prefabricated industrial cladding that wraps around the garden and becomes part of the main facade.

These elements make up new openings in the construction that admit light, air and people into the centre. Every time a visitor walks through a door or opens a window they come in direct contact and touch these handcrafted elements and become more aware of these natural materials. They sense the care, thought, and craft of the local people that made them. Small peep holes are located around the garden facade for for children to look through. Sometimes they can look through and other times a mirror is placed inside and they see themselves.

The front garden facade has canopy panels. Originally inspired by the boarded up shopfronts in the area, these panels are different. The timber panels open during the day and like a flower, close in the evening. The canopies create protection from sun and rain and as well in some places areas to sit and talk with views into the garden and across the street to Place Theatre.

The rear garden will be decked with a focus on water and light. Existing rainwater downpipes are replaced with hand made water chains that provide a waterfall sound when in use and recycle the water for the plants.

Buildings - (especially buildings incorporating biophilic design) can take steps to support and even increase the natural world both for the benefit of nature and for the benefit of our own health and well being.

The project won “Best Community Project” in the local Abercrombie Awards which awards the best architecture in the city every four years.


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