COP26 goes to Outer Space : nature-based solutions at Glasgow Science Centre


COP26 goes to Outer Space :
nature-based solutions at Glasgow Science Centre

The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference commences next week in Glasgow. Widely heralded as a pivotal moment in the global response to the climate emergency the COP26 conference will be hosted at the Scottish Events Campus and Glasgow Science Centre on the River Clyde.

Visitors and delegates arriving at the COP26 Green Zone in the Glasgow Science Centre will experience the transformed external spaces around the entrance areas. The ‘Outer Space’ project at Glasgow Science Centre is the first step in rejuvenating the quaysides around the Centre to create a welcoming, accessible and biodiverse place for communities and visitors to enjoy and interact with.

The ‘Outer Space’ project is part of the £4 million Connect programme to renovate the Centre’s exhibition spaces, improve the visitor experience and support outreach programmes. Funded through the Inspiring Science Fund (a partnership between UK Research and Innovation and Wellcome Trust) and Sustrans Scotland the project promotes active travel, enhances biodiversity, improves accessibility and encourages interaction with new external science exhibits and interpretation.

Austin-Smith:Lord, alongside WAVEParticle, were appointed to engage with Glasgow Science Centre visitors, staff, passers-by, local communities and key stakeholders to help develop the brief, business case and secure Sustrans funding. A multi-disciplinary project team, led by Austin-Smith:Lord, has then worked in collaboration with Glasgow Science Centre, Sustrans and local community groups to deliver the first phase in a wider masterplan ambition to transform the surrounding quaysides.

The ‘Outer Space’ project aims to retrofit the external spaces to create positive microclimates and integrate sustainable urban landscape design to respond to the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Car parking spaces have been repurposed to create a new two-way bike lane, along with a large cycle park and repair station, to encourage cycling and better connections to the city’s active travel networks. New EV charging points and enhanced disabled parking have also been provided.

The project has sought to ‘green the grey’ quaysides around Glasgow Science Centre and the adjacent BBC Scotland headquarters by adopting nature-based solutions. Green space has been increased by 35% with the introduction (retention and relocation) of trees, shrubs, species rich grasses, wild flower planting as well as wetland planting in the Glasgow Science Centre moats featuring 15 species of aquatic plants. Species diversity has been increased by 250% to enhance and support local ecology.

Hard landscaping has also included the retention, re-use or repurposing of 70% of existing materials on site. This has included the upcycling of existing concrete security bollards with local schools and community groups being invited to ‘Make Your Mark’ and develop creative designs, facilitated by Glasgow Science Centre Community Learning and Development and WAVEParticle around the theme of ‘Connection’.

The central feature of ‘Outer Space’ is the Fibonacci Garden which sweeps around to convey visitors to the entrances of the Science Mall and IMAX. Inspired by the Fibonacci shape sequence observed in nature (and found in pine cones, seedheads, shells and weather systems) it creates a social, community and events space for people to relax, interact and play with the external science exhibits. In the first weeks of opening the space has come alive with local people hanging out, playing, making music, enjoying yoga and tai chi, bmx-ing and skateboard; even hosting dog obedience classes.

Dr Gillian Lang, Deputy Director of Science at Glasgow Science Centre said: “We’ve created a safe, welcoming, outdoor learning space with exciting hands-on exhibits and opportunities to connect with science.

“The aim was to create an outdoor space that is loved, social and interactive, connecting the Science Centre to the community, to the environment and to the city. That’s why it was important to have people from across Glasgow help us design the space and we’re so thrilled with the results. We can’t wait for visitors to come and explore and, of course, we’ll be welcoming thousands of people during COP26.

Chiquita Elvin, Interim Head of Infrastructure and Delivery for Sustrans Scotland, said: “We are delighted to support the revamp of the public spaces around the Science Centre through our Transport Scotland-funded Places for Everyone scheme.

“Glasgow Science Centre has worked closely with the children and young people visiting the Centre to develop designs that make it easier for everyone to access the site sustainably and to create a public space where everyone will want to spend more time. The route through the site will also be improved for the people crossing the Clyde on foot or by wheel.

Siobhan Vernon, Director and Head of Landscape Architecture at Austin-Smith:Lord said: “On the cusp of the UN’s COP26 conference the Glasgow Science Centre ‘Outer Space’ project starts to show how we can integrate nature-based solutions to restore and adapt our urban landscapes to address the climate emergency. We hope that this first phase demonstrates the need and benefit to further enhance the open space, biodiversity and active travel networks in the local area and across the city.”

“It’s been inspiring to collaborate with Glasgow Science Centre and local communities to improve sustainable connections to the River, provide a warm welcome to the amazing Science Centre in an interactive learning environment and create a renewed community space in the city for events, exploration and play.”

Graham Ross, Chief Executive at Austin-Smith:Lord said: “It has been a great privilege to be able to work with Glasgow Science Centre to develop a brief and concept, secure funding, co-design ‘Outer Space’ with the community and realise this phase of the project in time for COP26. It’s been uplifting to see how folk have immediately enjoyed interacting with ‘Outer Space’ and hopefully it inspires further action to ‘green the grey’ along the Clyde, across Glasgow and beyond.

Glasgow Science Centre was recently awarded the Green Tourism Gold Award in recognition of its sustainability initiatives, helping to cement Glasgow’s credentials as a green events destination ahead of COP26. It has also been announced as the winner of the 2021 Learning for Sustainability Award in the Community Learning and Development category.

The Fibonacci Garden provides an interactive learning environment at the entrance to the Science Centre

Image credits: Glasgow Science Centre and HawkAye Scotland

Project Team

Glasgow Science Centre : Client
Sustrans Scotland, UK Research and Innovation, and Wellcome Trust : Funders
Austin-Smith:Lord : Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Lead Consultant
WAVEParticle : Community and Public Art
Neilson Partnership : Cost Consultants
Civic Engineers : C+S Engineering
Atelier 10 : M+E Engineering, Lighting
Transport Planning Limited : Transport Consultants
ITPEnergised : Ecologists
Luddon Construction : Main Contractor
Water Gems Alba : Wetland Planting
Timberplay Scotland : Interactive Play Equipment