Provost's View: Transforming UCL: the Bloomsbury Masterplan in action
14 May 2014
One of the most complex problems that we face – the current condition of our estate and the relative lack of space on our main campus – can also be seen as a huge opportunity.
Before my time at UCL, the Bloomsbury Masterplan was devised to guide further developments. Some elements of this plan have been unpopular in some quarters, but in my view, the core elements of the plan remain valid – and it is now time to follow through and put some key elements of the plan into action.
In recent times, through our UCL Strategy 2034 consultation, we have re-emphasised the importance of creating a sustainable estate that meets our world-class aspirations and helps to inspire our entire university community.
Prominent in our thinking is the opportunity that this creates to improve facilities and the working environment for students and staff alike.
Since the inception of the masterplan in 2011, a long review process has taken place to evaluate our broad plans together with our changing needs; to ensure our historic buildings are fit for the future and our campus reflects our vision for the next 20 years.
We should not underestimate how much there is to do and I have often said that the main problem for the next Provost (or two) will be the ongoing challenge of the estate.
But if we don’t start soon, we will never get there and the main purpose of this article is not only to update you and keep you informed, but also to ask for your forbearance with respect to the inevitable disruption that may ensue.
This summer, works will begin across the campus to realise the first construction phase of a series of improvements that will revolutionise the university.
The masterplan, as first released in 2011, detailed a range of projects set to improve the core campus area. Many of these projects – including the creation of new student hubs across the campus to improve teaching and learning space provision – have been underway since summer 2012.
However, this summer marks the beginning of the most significant new chapter in the developments to date as we begin transforming the UCL estate.
There have not been any major construction projects on the Bloomsbury site for some considerable time, so please bear with us as this programme gets underway. There are some complex competing priorities to balance, so I also ask for your patience and understanding as and when problems arise through the programme.
We will do our best to listen carefully to your concerns and respond appropriately where possible.
Improvements for all
Each ‘Transforming UCL’ project has a distinct set of priorities to ensure that the best use of space, time and money is invested into each one to ensure that the university experience for students and staff at UCL will become second to none.
Now, as we approach summer 2014, work is about to begin on the Wilkins Terrace, Refectory and Bloomsbury Theatre projects in the central campus area, which include a range of aesthetic and functional changes.
By both transforming wasted space, and creating space where previously the potential had not been tapped, these projects will change the use of the centre of our campus forever.
A key driver to this change is the improvement of the ‘unloved’ Physics Yard, which will be transformed into the Wilkins Terrace area. This development will provide an outdoor multi-use space that can be used for entertainment, events and student fairs, while cleverly concealing essential support areas for the refectory project underneath.
These improvements also include new public toilet facilities and a service tunnel running under the Physics Yard.
The terrace area will also provide a much needed new, joined up approach to the way that students and staff use the campus, allowing an easy route through to Gordon Street and the Bloomsbury Theatre.
The theatre itself will be having a much needed renovation as part of the summer planned works and will be open again for business ready for the autumn term. The works at the theatre take into consideration the need to better use the space and includes improved disabled access to make the upper circle available to all.
Together with an improved studio and performance area in the basement, improved access and updated WC facilities throughout, the theatre will be the first of the transformations at UCL to be open after the summer.
Preparing the way
Much of the ‘enabling works’ for the central campus projects has already started in recent weeks, such as the clearing of the cabins in the Physics Yard and the construction of a new enclosure in Gower Court.
These enabling works, while essential are also designed to make the best use of the time ahead of the construction work, which is lined-up to start during the summer break. Great care will be taken to ensure that the very minimum of disruption is caused during these activities.
The safety of staff, students and visitors has to be a priority and this means that some parts of the campus will have to be closed off while work is going on.
We will, of course, make sure that we signpost properly round the campus, and key facilities that are affected will be temporarily relocated.
A good example is the Lower Wilkins Refectory project, which is the third of the large projects taking place in the central campus.
This area will be closed off from the end of exams, until the newly refurbished servery, restaurant and outdoor eating area are complete. While this work is taking place there will be alternative temporary catering in the Jeremy Bentham Room (JBR) and the Old Refectory.
Also planned are temporary ‘pavilions’ in the Main Quad and Japanese Garden to provide space for events, dining space and social learning. In addition, a provision of temporary mobile catering options will be available across the campus during the summer and a new coffee shop area will be opening in the JBR.
For updates on these and other projects, a Transforming UCL website is currently under development and will contain detailed information about finding your way around campus during the period of change.
It will also contain project overviews, a timeline of the plans and artists’ impressions of the finished product. We will also ensure that there is an open comments and suggestion section to the website, ready for your constructive participation.
I always think that you can tell a world-class university from the way that it looks and feels as soon as you walk onto campus. I always get that feeling as I walk across the Quad, but it is not quite the same in many other parts of our campus.
It is time for that to start to change this summer, as I believe these changes to be mission critical for our long-term future.
President and Provost