Made at UCL


The UCL Walking Tour: A Closer Look


In June this year, UCL launched the UCL Walking Tour, a free guided walking tour aimed at inviting members of the public onto campus to learn more about UCL as a university and research institution and embrace its place at the heart of the Bloomsbury community. Sign up for the free guided walking tour here!

This month, host Cerys alongside Ariana Razavi, Molly Rasbash and Chanju Mwanza, delve deeper into three of the tours stops, the Wilkins Building, the Petrie Museum and the Student Centre and discuss the role that these places on campus have on the people who use them every day – students and staff.

While these buildings form key parts of UCL’s history, they are just a small part of the tour, only by taking the full tour can visitors learn about the noble laureates and the famous alumni that have studied or researched at UCL, the mysterious secret tunnels that run under the Cruciform building and the Japanese Garden which stands as a symbol of UCL’s diverse community and international links.

Below, you can also discover more about the stories and access the transcript

Sign up to our free UCL guided walking tour!

We will be running one tour every Friday. The tour will start at 12:30pm and last roughly an hour.

Sign up here

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Act 1: The Wilkins Building

The Wilkins Building is the focal point of UCL’s Bloomsbury Campus. It was designed by William Wilkins, perhaps best known for designing the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. At the time it was built, London looked very different and the area resembled a swampy wasteland on the edge of London, with one newspaper calling it a ‘large space of mud and nastiness’.  
The foundation stone was laid on 30 April 1827 by The Duke of Sussex, sixth son of George III. However, the remainder of the quad wasn’t fully completed until 1985 when it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen. It was on this visit that the driver of her car actually crashed into one of the bollards in front of the Portico. 

Ariana explores the Henry Wilkins Building in greater depth and interviews students on their favourite areas in the main UCL library, which can be found in the building.

Wilkins Building

Act 2: The Petrie Museum

Flinders Petrie was a pioneering archaeologist whose impact is still felt today. He was the first Egyptology professor in the UK, a role that was established at UCL in 1892 due to a bequest by women’s rights campaigner, writer and Egyptologist Amelia Edwards. She also bequeathed her collection of around a thousand Egyptian objects and her library to UCL. She deliberately chose UCL as it was the first university in the UK to award degrees to women. 

Petrie first travelled to Egypt in 1880 and he went on to excavate for forty years in Egypt and the Egyptian authorities allowed him to take his finds to England where many of them ultimately became part of the UCL collection. Petrie was much more scientific and methodical in his approach to archaeological digs compared to what had gone before, and introduced methods similar to those used today.

View of Petrie Museum down Malet Place

Act 3: The Student Centre

Opened in 2019 and built to be one of the greenest, the Student Centre is on of the  most sustainable buildings in the UK. This was achieved by using highly durable materials, installing automatic windows that naturally ventilate the building, planting a green roof, and adding 250 square metres of electric solar panels.  

The Student Centre features the auto-icon of UCL’s spiritual founder, Jeremy Bentham along with a rare piece for Turner Prize winning artist and UCL alum, Rachel Whiteread. The sculpture is a cast of a notice board in the Slade School of Art, and if you look carefully you can see the “ghosts” of messages pinned to the original board inside the resin. It is one of only two permanent public works by the artist in the UK.

In this Act, we speak to the Student Centre manager and the students who use the space every day. 

Image of Student Centre Main Hall



Cerys Bradley  00:05

Hello and welcome to series three of Made at UCL, the podcast.

Cerys Bradley  00:09

My name is Cerys Bradley and I'm here to share with you UCL's groundbreaking research and its impact on the world. Each month the Made at UCL team and I will be exploring a research theme and gathering stories from all over the community to try and understand it.

Cerys Bradley  00:23

In our sixth episode of this series, we wanted to try something a little bit different. In June earlier this year, UCL became the first London University to offer free walking tours of its campus. These walking tours, which take place every Friday, invite visitors onto campus to learn more about the history and research of UCL. Lasting roughly an hour the tour stops at key landmarks on campus such as the Wilkins building and the student center and shares the history and work of notable alumni such as Sir Bernard Katz and Rachel Whiteread.

Cerys Bradley  00:53

We wanted to give you a little taster of what the tours were like. And so the Made at UCL team has visited three of the tour spots to give you your own tour of their UCL. Our first stop is the Wilkins building right at the center of UCL campus. Before it was built Bloomsbury looked very different. It was a swampy wasteland at the edge of London described as a "large space of mud and nastiness," if you can believe that. The first stone of the Wilkins Building was laid in 1827 and it took over 100 years for the quad to be fully completed. Here is Ariana Razavi with a story about what the Wilkins building means to UCL students.

Ariana Razavi  01:29

The UCL walking tours are a really great way to hear about the history of UCL both as an institution and as a place. I spoke to one of the student guides of the walking tours, to hear a little bit more about what they are.

Phoebe (tour guide)  01:48

Hi, I'm Phoebe, I'm a second year history and politics of the Americas student. And I do the history, public tours for UCL where I do a tour around the campus, talk about the main people who have lived here and worked here, some of our alumni and a bit of history about the buildings. I normally start off by just saying a bit about UCL history in general. So UCL was founded in 1826. It's arguably the third oldest university in England. And it is ranked one of the best universities in the world and actually has the biggest student population of any university in the UK. I think it's about 45,000 students, which is a lot of students. So UCL was founded on quite radical and innovative thinking. And it was founded by two abolitionists, and it was the first university to admit anyone from any religious background. So before UCL, you had to be a member of the Church of England to go to university, and also a man. And although UCL didn't open originally as admitting women, it was the first university to admit women, and later on the first university to give women degrees. There was a time where women could go to university but they couldn't actually get a degree. But UCL was the first university to do it. There are many really famous female alumni that specifically chose to do their research here at UCL because of that. So the Wilkins building, which is the massive white marble looking structure, that you probably see every day when you come into campus, but maybe don't really know why it looks like that or what it is.

Ariana Razavi  03:36

To find out more, I've spoken to some of the students that spend their time outside of the Wilkins building on the main quad, and inside the building.

Ariana Razavi  03:54

So I'm on Gower Street right outside the main quad right now. And I'm looking towards the portico steps. And since they're here, and they're knowledgeable, I'm going to ask one of the campus ambassadors what they know about the Wilkins building.

Arun  04:11

Hi, my name is Arun. And what I know about the Wilkins building, so it's one very big building, and there's two little cloisters on either side, and there's a portico bang in the middle. It looks like it needs a lick of paint. But yeah, you've got the main library in the middle. There's a little area I like to hang out, study quietly, when it's kind of evening, and that's around the side of the North cloisters near the physics entrance. And you've also got the Wilkins terrace through the north cloisters, and they've got Japanese Garden through the South Cloisters. And then you have the Octagon Gallery in the middle.

Ariana Razavi  04:56

The Wilkins building which is sometimes referred to as the UCL Main building is named after William Wilkins who designed it. He was a prominent architect in the 1800s and also designed the National Gallery, which now that I think about it might look somewhat similar to the main building at UCL.

Ariana Razavi  05:22

So I've walked inside the South Cloisters. Now let's see what people have to say about this building we're in.

David  05:28

I think it's really the most recognizable part of UCL being, I would assume, the oldest building. The inside is very grand very tall ceilings.

Ariana Razavi  05:44

The ceilings are very tall and the hallways are very long. And there seem to be a lot of things on the walls throughout the Wilkins building and outside on the Wilkins Terrace, which you're about to hear.

Eshka  05:57

What not a lot of people know about is that there's something called the donor wall, which is by the by the left going down to refectory. And that wall, if I remember correctly, represents the -it's a bunch of metal hands, that represents the 40 most generous donors to UCL. A cool fact is that the length of the hands has some connection, probably a direct connection to how generous the donors were. So there's some really long hands like big institutions, big name, celebrities, and I'm sure to hands from other people, I have no idea who they are.

Ariana Razavi  06:43

I've walked right up to the library now. So I'm going to see what the most popular spot in here is, my bet is on the German section but maybe I'm biased since I'm literally always there.

Luisa  07:01

Hi, nice to meet you, I'm Luisa. And my favorite place to study in the main library is, is the English section of the main library. Because it's very aesthetic is like all you know, wooden shelves. And they intend to change the chairs.

Ariana Razavi  07:22

They did change the chairs. They're brand new now.

Luisa  07:24

Yeah, still won't cure my scoliosis. But I mean, I appreciate the attempt.

Kiego  07:31

Well, my favorite part is Dutch or German. The rest like the window, and

Alex  07:44

Oh, that's a good choice actually though not many people know where it is.

Kiego  07:48

That's the point.

Lanfranco  07:56

My name is Lanfranco. And my favorite Main Library section is the Dutch section. Because you can be surrounded by three walls of books, which is a good aesthetic.

David  08:05

So my favorite Library section is I don't know if you know what it's called, but it's on the second floor. And there are actually two levels. And usually, I would sit on top level. And the reason why it's my favorite area is because in the run up to term three in the Easter holidays, while we were all panicking and rushing to write up and sending our essays. I would always go and sit there with Arianna (no, this isn't a paid promotion) it was the site of many, many tears, many laughs

Sofya  08:55

I remember in the main library once, my friend and I we went to study and it was pouring outside, so we kind of ran into the main library. And I remember we sat down and I was like, okay, I'm gonna study. So I try to like read Plato there and then turn around and the entire time she's just drawing the columns inside the Law Library, because as we know, that's the prettiest one, right? And she was just drawing the columns and kind of she's really, really good at drawing. So that was very nice, because I remember I was just reading trying to work and she was just drawing right next to me.

Ariana Razavi  09:32

I found it so nice to hear different people's stories and experiences of a place that's been so special to me since I started at UCL two years ago. It's quite remarkable how a building from the 1800s is still so central to so many people's experience at university. If you'd like to visit the main library, it's open from 8:30am till midnight on weekdays and from 11am till 9pm on weekends.

Cerys Bradley  10:14

If you would now like to follow me, we are going to head out of the main quad and take a left on Gower Street. If you're on the main tour, there will be lots of stops, but we're going to head straight down and take another left into Malet Place and then one more left back up to campus, and up past the science library to the Petrie Museum. Here I'm going to hand you over to Molly Rasbash so you can discover it together.

Molly Rasbash  10:35

I'm in the final year of my undergrad degree here at UCL. I study Arts and Sciences, which is an interdisciplinary course, meaning I've probably seen more of the UCL campus than the average student, as all my lectures are given from different faculties. Yet there are still so many buildings I've never been to, departments I haven't even heard of and doors I pass without wondering where they go.

Molly Rasbash  10:57

Malet Place is one of the key streets on the UCL campus. It has the Engineering Building, the Science Library, the Institute of Making, the Medical Science Building. In term time, it's always busy. Also on Malet Place, next to a perpetual queue for £5 pizzas is a big dark door. This door that I've walked past so many times leads to one of the world's foremost collections of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology, the Petrie Museum, you walk up some bright white stairs and are met with this small space filled with ancient artifacts. The museum couldn't feel more different from the rush of main campus. It's like a time capsule showcasing life along the Nile from prehistory to the pharaohs. 7000 years of history, 80,000 artifacts (though they can only showcase around 10% at a time) the place feels important.

Josh Henning  12:05

There's so much to see. And every every time I come in I literally see things I've never seen before, all kinds of stuff - has always been there?

Anna Garnett  12:15

Me too! And then I'm like, oh, did you move that, is this - has this just the moved here? No, it has not been moved since 1970s, or something like that.

Molly Rasbash  12:23

I spoke to Anna Garnett, the curator, and Josh Henning, the museum visitor services manager about the museum. The Petrie Museum is free to access for anyone, not just students, but primarily it is a teaching collection.

Anna Garnett  12:36

The teaching collections have been like embedded in the kind of approach in the history of education at UCL.

Josh Henning  12:43

Since pretty much the foundings of teaching and research first and foremost is the priority. And we're not just talking about students, it's kind of broader research, broader teaching of the public. And every visitor that comes in these, these aren't static displays, they are still being used almost on a daily basis sometimes, and discoveries are still being made.

Anna Garnett  13:02

I maintain, I'm determined that anyone can come to us with any subject to any story that they want to tell and we can use the collection to illustrate that story. You could you could tell me anything, you can ask anything and we could do it.

Molly Rasbash  13:15

Unlike the big museums, which tend to focus on packing as much gold and jewels into their exhibitions as possible, the Petrie collection focuses on the everyday.

Josh Henning  13:23

It's very much we're trying to get the connection to the individuals, the people is. We all know about the pharaohs, we've all heard about Tutankhamun, but it's the kind of the everyday people or people that we would have been had we lived 5000 years ago.

Molly Rasbash  13:36

And some of the objects they have in the collection are quite humbling to think about: a rat trap, the oldest will, the oldest example of a woven garment. I'm struck with just how ordinary some of it feels.

Josh Henning  13:48

Everyone's heard of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, at the very end of the first first millennium saw the first century BC we're close in time to her then she was to like the construction of the Great Pyramid and some of the earliest stuff on display here. Yet we consider her an ancient Egyptian. That kind of quite how far removed we actually are. But at the same time, how a lot of things don't change.

Molly Rasbash  14:16

This small museum is also at the center of some tough debates. And they're willing to have the hard conversations about legacies of excavation, accessibility, imperialism, human remains, decolonization and histories that some tried to erase.

Anna Garnett  14:30

You know, let's tell the whole story here. We we have good like close up working relationships with colleagues in Egypt, in museums and in the antiquities service. And it's always it's that dialogue. It's really important. It's and it's ongoing, and you're right, like the Petrie Museum are always at the forefront of those sorts of conversations.

Molly Rasbash  14:48

As I wander to the display cabinets, which are museum objects in and of themselves, many of them the original cases from when the collection was first donated to UCL, I spoke to some of the visitors to find out how they use this space and their thoughts on the collection.

Visitor 1  15:01

To be honest, I come here to decompress a bit. I sometimes do work here, or just wander around.

Visitor 2  15:07

I could spend hours and hours in there, I haven't seen anything quite like it before. I'm always at museums. I just can't believe I didn't know it existed until a few days ago.

Visitor 3  15:18

I've passed the door probably like hundreds of times. And today's first time I actually went in.

Anna Garnett  15:22

Yeah, it's often described as a hidden gem, which is like it's kind of bittersweet because it's great that we're a gem, but we don't want to be hidden, you know?

Josh Henning  15:32

The visitor numbers are quite low, we only get a couple of 100 people a day.

Molly Rasbash  15:36

The Petrie Museum is free to all visitors and is open from 1 to 5pm Tuesday to Friday, and 11am to 5pm on Saturday, there is step free access via the science library. I can't recommend a visit enough.

Cerys Bradley  15:50

I know there's a lot to see, but we need to move on to our next and final destination. We'll take a left out of the Petrie Museum and head through the south quad, wind round past the Bernard Katz building and you should see the Student Center on your right. The Student Center was being built basically the entire time that I was at UCL. And so this next segment is going to be my first introduction to it. This is Chanju Mwanza with storage from the Student Center.

Chanju Mwanza  16:19

This month marks the end of my master's program and the end of an academic journey with UCL that spanned five years across my undergraduate and master's degrees. As I come to reflect on my time at UCL, it felt apt to look at the various spaces that created friendships witnessed both laughter and tears, and basically accompanied me in writing some of the academic pieces that I'm most proud of. When I began my undergraduate degree in 2014, there was talk of future building work for a new study space that frankly felt a bit too far into the future for 18 year old me to worry about. That space was the Student Center. And as I wore my graduation cap and gown in 2018, the space was almost complete. Flash forward to 2021 and my return to UCL I got the opportunity to actually experience the student center, a space that didn't even exist when I first stepped onto campus eight years ago. But what is the Student Center, I speak to Amad Uddin, the student center manager to find out more.

Amad Uddin  17:22

I manage the library's Student Center, which opened in 2019. The Student Center is our flagship library building is very unique. That's why we've had a lot of interest in from different institutions. It's run by Library Services and people come and say where's the books - there is no books,  we have 1100 study spaces. We have different technological aspects of the building as well. My favorite part is the roof area where we have a roof garden, on a beautiful sunny day, or even on rainy day it's just lovely to watch out and see the weather changes and the sunset.

Chanju Mwanza  18:06

It's basically a one stop shop for everything a student might need, from laptop loans to showers, cafes, group study rooms, individual study spaces, a chaplain, prayer and contemplation rooms. The student inquiry team is also based there and students societies often use the center to showcase their work throughout the year.

Amad Uddin  18:21

Students use it differently is depending on what type of work they need to submit or what type of work so if it's research, and then it's a serious piece of work or exam time then people choose quiet study. But if it is not, then they can use a group rooms or they can use a social study area. So it depends on the student needs.

Chanju Mwanza  18:39

I think that the idea of being student led is key to the ethos of the Student Center.

Chanju Mwanza  18:50

I spoke to some of my classmates who did a master's degree under the Education and International Development program at UCL's Institute of Education to reflect on how they've engaged with the Student Center throughout the year and what this space means to them.

Rosa  19:03

I would say I pretty much only used it for like studying like going to write a paper or do some do kind of research in a space that wasn't like my house. That's where I would use it. It's it is nice because you can go any time of day like it is 24/7. So like, there were times where I'd have to leave the library because it was closing or wasn't open yet or on the weekend. So I've used like the student center so that I wouldn't waste those actually feeling productive hours in the morning.

Chanju Mwanza  19:32

That was Rosa, a student from Virginia in the United States. For her the Student Center was functional space to study particularly when other libraries might be closed.

Carmen  19:43

Most often I would do the bookable study spaces so like a very specific resource I used at the Student Center, but the reason I liked it is because like the rooms themselves were very well equipped. You had your PC. Very clean, very cool. During the summer during this crazy heatwave, the student center was like the coolest building. But I would mostly go there to study for like a day, I would like camp out. It was like that kind of place, you know, because you have like the water stations, it was a good place to kind of camp out because it was 24 hours. And everyone's kind of doing that there.

Chanju Mwanza  20:18

And that was Carmen from California. For her, not only was the student center a functional study space, it's also a space for sustenance, for food, water and having shelter from the sweltering heat in the summer. It's clear that the student center was a space used to help students to get in the zone, but also to learn in solidarity with other students going through the same academic highs and lows. Overall, the building was created in a way that was meant to support students as learning journeys.

Amad Uddin  20:44

It has different services and different technology under one roof. And that's one of the most amazing things about it that if I'm a student in the building, I don't need to go to other libraries, sites or other places in the campus to do things.

Chanju Mwanza  20:56

It's clear that as an architectural space that houses so many different services, the Student Centre can support people's individual learning journeys. This is one thing that my friend Ishani, a student from India highlighted you

Ishani  21:09

Honestly, I was usually in the top floors, I love the terrace. Sometimes what I would also do is, there were these empty chairs and tables at the side right next to floor two or floor three. It had a beautiful view and not a lot of people used to come there. So it used to be kind of like my space. And that's, that's why I really love UCL spaces because there's, they're so huge, you can actually find the space for yourself.

Chanju Mwanza  21:37

For Ishani, the Student Center was like a personal space, a mini oasis where she could escape. And the view from the Student Center is something that came up for other students to. Michelle from Hong Kong shared her reflections.

Michelle  21:51

Yeah, so I really like the design of the Student Center because I always feel like I can have the sun shine from the like glass window outside. And I also love the like roof terrace on the fourth floor. Yeah, the viewfrom there is really nice so I can like take a break from my studies

Chanju Mwanza  22:13

Her view was similar to my friend Tu, a student from Vietnam, who engaged with the views from the Student Center as a space for contemplation.

Tu  22:21

The space is generally ideal for studying, I feel like I'm pretty good with focusing in that environment, like there's some noise, but not too much noise. So which is like suitable for just keeping myself focused there are also, like a lot of great views from that building, too, I can look around and look into the space or look through the windows, those little details are really kind of engaging with my, with my work, and I found a kind of affection for that.

Chanju Mwanza  22:58

So far we've had perspectives that are centered on studying. Even though the student center is described as a library with new books, it's much more than that. It's a space where students have made memories. Amad shared some of the more obscure memories that he's observed during his time as a student center manager.

Amad Uddin  23:18

This is the amazing thing about the building. And the students are amazing that they do so many funny things. My staff and myself have catch people playing football in B2. We've seen people playing cricket as well in B2. You wouldn't you wouldn't believe it. I'm a sports fan. So you know, I admire their passion. Also, we've you know, you know, we've we've have screens around here where you could connect your laptop, people have used it to connect their PS5s and PS4s to play football. And obviously we have to say no, so it's funny that they know what to do with the technology and how to tailor it to their needs. We've had people use book book the group rooms to watch Champions League football. So yeah, it's funny, and you know, I'll give it to them that they've tried their best to use it and everyone needs a break. But unfortunately, the Student Center is for studying but those are some of the funniest stories that we've had.

Chanju Mwanza  24:11

And for some the Student Centre came to the rescue in hours of need,

Tu  24:15

there was one time when my my home was like out of water. Like there's no hot water in my home. And I think of like going to the Student Center to take a bath. And I did it was quite it was quite good actually. Then after that I just went back home. It was it was not for study purpose at all, but just for taking a shower because like the issue and my home.

Chanju Mwanza  24:46

But overall the thing that stood out to me was the way that students talked about the Student Center with such fondness and centered on ideas of community. It's like the Student Center is a home away from home that would bring people from all over the world and different walks of life into one space,

Ishani  25:02

I definitely have memories that I never forget, I remember I would like sort of go with all my classmates, and we would get our home cooked lunch and just sort of sit and like share food. And the really cool thing about this was the fact that, you know, we all came from like different backgrounds. So we would always bring something new, something different. And I think this whole feeling of you know, this, this whole feeling of community started really brewing at these so called at the UCL spaces.

Chanju Mwanza  25:32

And that community is there with you, even in the low points. As Rosa points out,

Rosa  25:37

There are some fun memories of sort of meeting a group of people there, just so we could sort of all work in misery together in solidarity.

Chanju Mwanza  25:48

And I think those last thoughts perfectly capture how I experienced the Student Center, and UCL overall. It was a space to connect with so many different people who I otherwise would never have crossed paths with. It was a space of solidarity, sharing our dreams, and our miseries all in one setting. And what's next for the people that I've encountered at the Student Center? Tu aspires to do further research into how high school students in Vietnam engage with gender and sexuality through the curriculum. Michelle is a speech therapist, who intends to use the knowledge gained in her Master's to promote the inclusion of people with special needs in her future work. Ishani is a professional instructional designer who wants to design learning experiences that enhance capabilities for people coming from different backgrounds. Rosa is exploring different ideas for her next steps with a hope of landing a role related to international development. And finally, Carmen would like to have greater opportunities because of the degree that she's just obtained from UCL. Everyone is going on a different path in post UCL life, but the Student Centre played a role in forming their UCL journey. And that's what makes it special for me, the fact that it has so many different aspirations in one big space.

Cerys Bradley  27:22

And that concludes our whistlestop tour of the UCL campus. If you want to sign up for the full in person door, you can book your place at the UCL walking tour website at www.ucl.ac.uk/about/UCL-walking-tour. The tour runs every Friday at 12:30pm and departs from the North Lodge in the main quad, lasts one hour and covers roughly a mile in distance and it's completely free.

Cerys Bradley  27:47

The tour covers the stops described in the episode as well as many others and shares much more of their history.

Cerys Bradley  27:54

Thank you for listening to the sixth episode of season three. We'll be back next month with more stories from the UCL community.

Cerys Bradley  28:01

You have been listening to Made at UCL, the podcast to listen to previous episodes or find out more about life at UCL visit www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-UCL, or subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast.

Cerys Bradley  28:16

This episode was presented by myself Cerys Bradley with from Ariana Razavi, Molly Rasbash and Chanju Mwanza. It was produced by Halle McCarthy with support from UCL and featured theme music from the Blue Dot Sessions. For a full list of audio credits, please see the show notes.

Cerys Bradley  28:32

Special thanks to everyone who was interviewed for this episode.

Cerys Bradley  28:36

This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through event digital content and activities that are open to everyone. See you next month.