In June 2019 the Shape My City group worked alongside architects, university students, landscape architects and engineers to design and construct a nature-inspired temporary pavilion and sculpture to engage the public as part of the Bristol Festival of Nature 2019, and the 90th anniversary of the Landscape Institute.

Here, student and Shape My City livebuild participant Jenise Thomas, shares her experience.

The build 

The incessant percussion of the raindrops was an unwelcome accompaniment to our morning endeavours, though, it did not impair our enthusiasm for the day’s job and the start of a great Festival of Nature weekend. The (hu)manpower brought to this monumental project was comprised of a mixture of hardworking individuals, including young members of the Shape My City programme (like me), UWE architecture students (from the UK and Erasmus students from around Europe) University of Gloucestershire landscape architecture students as well and volunteer professional from the built environment and landscape sector. The project team guiding the livebuild was made up of: Sally Daniels (UWE/tangentfield), Scott Farlow (University of Gloucestershire/UWE), Sarah Jones Morris (Landscape Institute South West) and the Architecture Centre’s Amy Harrison, who brought expertise and composure throughout this project, and their passion and commitment inspired and encouraged us all. The team were given additional engineering expertise, support and enthusiasm from Alex Consoli of BuroHappold.



The day was filled with a range of activities necessary bring our temporary pavilion and giant nest sculpture to life. There were outside activities for those who didn’t mind getting wet and stuck in; but there were inside activities for those who would rather not get wet yet were still working to create integral aspects of the pavilion. There was definitely something to suit everyone’s preferences and skills. I involved myself with every activity available because I wanted to optimise the benefits from this amazing opportunity. In the morning, whilst it was pouring down, I didn’t have any issues with working in the rain, and my Shape My City peers and I built the blackboards to be used for the public engagement activities over the weekend. Whilst I struggled with cutting the recycled wood efficiently, I develop new skills in handling tools (and an arm workout!). Meanwhile, a group of landscape students were working inside potting up small pollinator plants that we were going to hang on the pavilion as living decoration and then give away to the public at the end of the festival to plant across the city. I helped with potting and stringing up the last few pots, before fuelling up for the afternoon activities.



My afternoon consisted of refining the bird’s nest sculpture which team of students and landscape architects had constructed during the morning. To truly look professional whilst ‘on-site’, I kitted myself up with a pair of gardening gloves, a high-vis jacket and a hard hat (wearing the hard hat was definitely one of my personal highlights of the livebuild!). I worked alongside a landscape architecture student, breaking and weaving twigs to improve the nest structure – this was the first of many times during the livebuild we had to pose for the camera (something I enjoyed throughout the weekend because it released my inner child!). Throughout the afternoon I had the chance to talk to university students whilst we were working together, and this is something I feel I benefited a lot from, as I valued the differing opinions and experiences of their courses and student life which they shared. I certainly gained a wider understanding of the world of architecture, the built environment and landscape sectors through these interesting chats!



I stayed outside on-site on Queen Square for the rest of the day and began helping to construct the main structure (made of very large bamboo poles). Sally and the architecture students took the lead in doing the mathematics/engineering to ensure the integrity of the pavilion, whilst the Shape My City helpers, including myself, held the bamboo in place and hammered the hooks into the ground. I did, however, take a mental note of their thought process and why they had done each element of the construction, so I could better understand the processes involved in building a structure. It gave me more of an insight into the construction process, which was useful as I to date I was more familiar with the designing elements of the process. I believe this new angle open my eyes to the practical considerations of building a structure – and this might make me more realistic when it comes to the design phase in the future! The earlier delay of the rain meant we finished the build day slightly behind schedule, so the core team agreed to meet on-site early the next morning to get the structure completed before the festival opened to the public.


The Festival of Nature Weekend 

Getting the bamboo pavilion structure secured was our first (quite time-consuming activity) as we had to ensure the stability and safety of the structure which the public were going to be in and around during the festival. Despite the fact that the building was a bit behind schedule (another real-life construction experience!) the delay had the unintended benefit of allowing the public to observe the final elements of our team construction efforts!



The sun came with its golden rays as the Festival of Nature got into full swing. Over the weekend, our role was to encourage as many members of the public interact with the pavilion and giant nest sculpture (which was now adorned with a clutch of large paper mache eggs made by my own fair hands!) and to encourage them to use their imaginations and the activities we had provided to share things from nature that they had ‘LOST + FOUND’. They could write poems chalk on the blackboards we had constructed, add drawings to the outdoor gallery we had strung up (interspersed with plants) along the bamboo structure. In terms of responses, the public seemed enthusiastic and to participate as my Shape My City peers and I walked around to encourage people with not only our words, but Landscape Institute badges and stickers too. Doing this public engagement task increased my confidence in talking to new people helped develop my communication and persuasion skills.
Over the course of the weekend our pavilion became an outdoor gallery space which hundreds of members of the pubic contributed to and the giant nest sculpture was a source of delight for many visiting children!



Amidst all of the discussions, design workshops and the actual construction itself, I feel that the element that had the greatest impact on me were the gallery contributions made by members of the public from young children to senior citizens – through the drawings, poems and memories decorating our pavilion and blackboards. I probably had too many favourites over the weekend as there were many that were sentimental and meaningful and others that were light-hearted and funny. The two I must mention are: a poem by a peer of mine in SMC because he has an amazing way with words and created such an impactful poem about nature and climate change, and the other was a comment from an elderly participant who wrote on our blackboard that he ‘may have lost his youth but had found new horizons’. I think we had definitely succeeded in making the pavilion an inviting place, bringing people together and initiating conversations about people, place and nature – and I think the level of participation conveyed the level of enjoyment that the public had interacting with the pavilion, nest sculpture and activities. I think this enjoyment increased when our pavilion became an impromptu stage and the backdrop to different singers and musicians over the course of the weekend.



Having successfully completed the livebuild in sometimes challenging conditions, the team was tinged with the inevitable sadness as the time came to dismantle our constructions. As a young person interested in a career in the built environment industry, having the opportunity to be involved in this livebuild project was truly momentous. The lessons and skills I gained were invaluable and the bonds and memories I created with the people involved are irreplaceable – it was truly an unforgettable weekend.

A film of the livebuild project is coming soon.

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