It is very likely that the next 25 years will see greater changes in both tangible and intangible infrastructure of our university than the whole of the past 175 years. Change may be constant, but change is also accelerating.
Throughout the latter half of 2020, we have engaged in a process of qualitative evaluation of our portfolio of development projects. We’re not just looking at individual project proposals, however exciting and compelling they may be. We are guided instead by a values-based approach to development while simultaneously seeking to be more strategic and more effective.
The central statement of Shared Vision, Shaped by Values – Strategy 2020-2025 is that the mission of NUI Galway is ‘to serve the public good’. We are highlighting two major projects – the Innovation and Creativity District and the new Library and Learning Commons – that illustrate the place of values in our infrastructure planning, and how we intend to serve the public good.
Replacing institutional self-interest with a commitment to public good requires an acceptance that being the best in the world is not necessarily the same as being the best for the world.
Best for the world will never compromise our commitment to excellence. Evaluation against standards of public good will, however, affect choices and alter outcomes.
To ensure public good, development plans must be measured not just against our own best judgement of what that is but also for alignment with public policy.
At global level, we must keep the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals firmly in our sights. At EU level, the objectives of Horizon Europe, for example, are hugely important. At national level, we seek to align with the National Planning Framework, Ireland 2040. At regional and local level, we pay close attention to both the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy and the Galway City and Metropolitan Area plans.
At NUI Galway we are committed, therefore, to utilising infrastructural resources to contribute to the local, national and international communities that we serve.
A timeline for transformation of the Hardiman Library is at last in view. A project manager and planning consultant have been appointed. Procurement for the design team is underway. Late Autumn of 2021 is the target for lodging the planning permission application. All going well, building works will commence in early Summer 2022.
This is of course much more than a building project: the Library and Learning Commons is a vitally important articulation of who we are and what we believe.
Values provide the necessary ethical dimension for evaluating the impact of architecture on our daily lives. The library, as the beating heart of a university, is arguably the most important expression of its ethos and values. In a time of bewildering change, the library is a constant.
For 175 years, our university library has been at the centre of student life. Conversations and interactions on the fringes of the library are as central to the experience of university as study time within the walls of the library itself.
But if the library as an institution is a constant, the way in which it serves student needs is anything but.
The modern university library must reflect and support fundamental changes in modes of teaching and learning, recognising the shift in emphasis from the former to the latter. The traditional didactic model has been flipped, as much by a better understanding of learning processes as by technology.
Understanding creative collaboration and its cousin, collaborative creativity, is a matter of great importance for the academy. We already know that combining people with effective social and cognitive processes leads to innovation. The team is more than the sum of its parts. We may not fully understand all the ‘how’ and ‘why’, but common sense tells us that the provision of infrastructure for collaborative creativity is key. Providing that essential infrastructure is the primary motivation for the Innovation and Creativity District – just as it is for the new library.
That is why the new library will be accessible and flexible, why it will have technology-rich spaces that will enable students to take control of their own learning and generate new knowledge as active co-creators rather than passive recipients. The architectural brief contains clear instructions to encourage collaborative creativity.
The library will be sustainable – as a physical place and as a generator of sustainability in society. It will support excellence – in individual disciplines as well as in learning, research and application skills. It will demonstrate respect – supporting our students in their studies, and in their personal progression. And it will express openness – inspiring co-creation, sharing, collegiality and emotional attachment.
It will be characterised by ubiquitous technology, facilities for group work, diverse and versatile spaces to meet preferred approaches to learning, high levels of comfort, accessible support, excellent accommodation for library staff and generous opening hours.
Students will practise giving presentations, experiment with new learning technologies, brainstorm ideas, study privately or take a break – even a nap. They will develop skills, especially critical thinking, communication, team working and effective use of digital technologies.
The library will work with many partners to open as early as possible during the lifetime of the current University strategy (2020-2025), with as little disruption as possible. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Covid-19 is bending time in ways that we do not yet fully understand. It is unarguable that the pandemic has brought forward the future of work, but precisely what that means has yet to be seen. All we can say for sure is that it is posing important questions about how our cities can be great places to live and, at the same time, drivers of a sustainable economy.
Here is the dilemma. Modern economies are both dispersed and concentrated: technology has enabled economic activity to happen anywhere and Covid-19 will undoubtedly accelerate dispersal trends in many sectors. However, the most advanced knowledge-based industries cluster together, usually in small areas of big cities. This will not change. If anything, it is a trend that will gather pace. Concentrated urban areas are accelerators of ideas. They drive interactions of people and investment that innovation demands. Remote working will not alter the reality that personal networks are the critical drivers of innovation.
Digital technologies are disrupting business models and accelerating change in all sectors. Artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things and big data are radically reshaping our future economy. These trends are bringing a greater focus to the non-fiscal attributes of a location for investment – talented people, cultural richness, depth of research and innovation, life quality, environmental sustainability, and the vibrancy of a local economy measured by the potential for high value startups.
In multiple locations around the world, Innovation Districts have been instrumental in bringing these nonfinancial attributes to bear – energising cities and regions, attracting new investment, raising the ambition for new business creation, and deepening the relationship between universities and place.
Our singular challenge in Ireland is to protect and grow our base of international firms, but shift the balance towards providing an enhanced environment for innovation-driven, indigenous businesses to flourish. This is where Innovation Districts play an important role.
An Innovation District is a discrete urban area where a research-led university physically co-locates with start-ups, SMEs, large innovative corporates as well as social, community and cultural entrepreneurs. Close proximity of all these constituents encourages multiple interactions which can be amplified through programming to connect talent, drive innovation and generate benefit for local communities. An Innovation District is a focal point for both specialist clustering and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Universities provide essential underpinnings for Innovation Districts – connection to a deep talent pipeline, an innovation thought-engine through faculty and researchers, and a social and cultural centre. Universities act as a bridge between entrepreneur, venture capital, local community and established industry – providing a space to bring everyone together collaborate and to drive an innovation agenda.
In return, innovation districts provide a means for universities to enhance their research capabilities and to ensure that research outputs lead to more rapid social and economic impact.
An innovation district is a laboratory for a university to develop its knowledge and understanding of how innovation, interdisciplinary learning, the arts, human creativity and imagination interact.
Unlike research and science parks, Innovation Districts embrace urban characteristics of density and accessibility – places where dynamic social networks foster an innovation ecosystem.
The Power of Culture-based Creativity is, for Galway, an essential element.
Galway has the potential to be a cultural powerhouse, a city that is moving beyond the instrumentalism of culture. The spontaneous coalescing of communities and cultural organisations for the European Capital of Culture bid was the foundation for a programme grounded in the social and artistic anthropology of Galway. The way has been prepared for authentic cultural rebirth, underpinned by a shared vision of culture that feeds innovation, dissolves barriers and enriches lives.
In Galway, artists and writers are valued not just for their art but for their indispensable place in the social and cultural fabric of the city. NUI Galway is a globally distinct cultural institution that is moving closer to the heart of the city, literally and metaphorically. Hence our focus on culture and creativity, not as an adjunct to innovation but as a central and essential component.
The creative industries represent a bridge between the arts and culture on the one hand and rapidly growing sectors of future industry on the other – where innovation, imagination and creativity will be essential for success.
The creative industries are highly innovative. Creative occupations are important drivers of economic and social innovation in many other sectors. They are resistant to automation and hence will be a crucial factor for resilience of the Irish economy in the face of impending technological disruption.
Artistic creativity and its spill over into other aspects of life are difficult to measure. However, we already know that culture-based creativity is crucial for social innovation. We know also that culture-based creativity is embodied in the design of daily used products and service innovations.
Creative industries are a rapidly growing industry category within the wider economy. Indeed, the case can be made that the knowledge era is drawing to a close: the future is all about creation and imagination – qualities that we all possess but which are suppressed by standardised education and systematised work. It is not unrealistic to say that the skills of artists of all kinds – people who spend their lives creating objects and meaning, often out of nothing – are precisely the skills we all need in the future. All industries will soon have to choose between being creative or redundant.
The Galway Innovation and Creativity District.
Interconnectedness is key. The Galway Innovation and Creativity District will build on the success of the Portershed which has been nurturing innovation in Galway since 2015.
There will be two areas – Northern and Southern. Each will offer a distinctive experience, atmosphere and sense of place.
The Northern area will comprise an Academic Building, a multipurpose cultural venue, and a hotel connected to the university both physically and in terms of planned usage and integration with teaching. It will be framed within sustainable public realm to support engagement with the waterways and the natural landscapes of the urban environment.
The Southern areas will have two key zones of activity. The first will comprise a residential Waterways Village and the second will be the location for the Innovation centre, the City Lab (where NUI Galway and Galway City Council will research, report, analyse, teach, inform and inspire the people who are creating the future of the city), NUI Galway’s Adult education centre, as well as outreach venues for inspiring creativity and community engagement, and a host of new social spaces.
The Innovation and Creativity District will sit alongside the expanded Galway to Connemara Greenway, passing through the city and the university campus, to Moycullen, Oughterard and on to Clifden.