By chance, I’ve stumbled across this video about the new LSE students’ centre.
I’m delighted to see this going ahead, although I have a couple of caveats that I’ll come to later.
The LSE Students’ Union currently occupies a space that is, frankly, not fit for purpose. The offices for the General Secretary, Treasurer, Societies Manager, Finance Manager and media group (the Beaver newspaper, PuLSE radio and LooSE tv) are not accessible to people who use wheelchairs and, in any case, are remote from the centre of the SU in the Quad. While the bar, the Three Tuns, is a lovely venue (and I don’t care what anyone says, the refurb a few years ago was a tremendous improvement) and the Underground bar was also greatly improved at the same time, the Quad, the main space of the SU, is, frankly, a bit dingy and no amount of refurb work is going to change that. It is also too small; the LSE has grown in number and so has the pressure on the Union. Although I have a great deal of affection for the existing location in the East Building, the simple fact is that is not big enough and was not designed to be a students’ union, rather being infill in existing space. The new students’ centre offers a purpose-built facility.
The centre of gravity of the LSE is also moving steadily northwards. This started with the opening of the new library, with the plaza cafe outside, and continued with the New Academic Building on Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I believe I’m right in saying that the LSE sees expanding around Lincoln’s Inn Fields as the way to go, and so that trend will continue. Moving to the new site on the existing St Phillip’s building will put it in the centre of things once again. I discussed this on more than one occasion with Narius Aga (a General Secretary so effective that he is still known as The General) who felt that moving to a new site would mean the SU was isolated; if that ever held true, I don’t think it does any more.
Getting rid of St Phillip’s is also to be welcomed. Frankly, the building was not good. It was originally designed as a hospital (I once met a taxi driver who said he’d been born there) but it didn’t work as a university building. It was inaccessible, dark, cramped and had some pretty unpleasant rooms. Some of the rooms in the basement were known as the morgue; most people thought this was because they were windowless and dingy, but they had actually been the hospital’s morgue. There was one room that required you to enter the building, leave into a courtyard and go into something that felt like a portakabin.
While the LSE is a fantastic institution, some of its buildings are a bit lacklustre. I’m delighted to see that the design for the building is attractive and – essentially – environmentally friendly. Quite apart from the moral reasoning for that, it keeps costs down in the long term.
Although I haven’t seen the detailed plans, I’m generally supportive of the idea and what I’ve seen of its execution.
Notably, this isn’t the Students’ Union building, but the students’ centre. I do understand the rationale and to a large extent agree with it. Things like the careers office and accommodation office – the student-facing parts of the School – will be colocated with the SU. That does make sense. What I would be wary of, however, is room creep. If the whole building were just for the SU, it would be hard for the School to gain a toehold in it. With bits of the School already in the building, it’s that much easier for growth in one bit of the school to be accommodated by taking up ‘slack’ space in the building at the expense of the Union. I don’t think this would be in anyway hostile or antagonistic, but it is something that needs to be remembered that the Union’s interests, while close to the School’s, are not identical.
Permit me, dear reader, a brief moment of self-indulgence. I was involved in making some changes to the SU and some of them have persisted. Most notably, the Media Group is still there. I’m also glad that one of the changes I made – a communications sabbatical – has gone. At 10’46″ in the video, in an interview with the then General Secretary, Aled Dilwyn Fisher, you can see the wall decoration is silhouettes of famous LSErs. I’m just visible on the left of the picture. The following picture is the same, but taken in the Three Tuns rather than the Quad.
The text says ’42 real heads of government, 17 Nobel laureates, 2 fictional heads of government and at least 2 terrorists have been to LSE. Countless others have changed the world. Before you finish, just ask yourself – do we really need another accountant?’.
I may well find out a bit more about what’s happening at my alma mater.