Provost's View: Transforming UCL takes shape
2 October 2014
As I have been out and about around campus in the past few weeks, I have been reminded of the unparalleled scale and pace of transformation that we are undertaking on our estate.
To put things in a historical context, plans were first put forward to complete our Gower Street frontage (and therefore completely enclose the Quad) as early as the 1830s - yet it wasn't until 1985 that the Chadwick and Pearson buildings were actually completed!
Unfortunately, in 2014, we don't have the same luxury of time, as we must push ahead with our ambitious plans to create a sustainable estate fit for purpose for delivering on our strategy, UCL 2034.
A fruitful summer
So, it's particularly pleasing to see how much progress has been made over the summer. Just last week, the UCLU Building reopened following an extensive set of improvements.
These included the renovation of the reception and lobby areas, while the interior has been reorganised to allow for better circulation and provide additional seating space for Gordon's Café.
Similarly, the Bernard Katz building has also reopened after major refurbishment to the upper floors. The improvements include new laboratories, a 60-person teaching/learning suite and open-plan PhD facilities for UCL Biochemical Engineering.
Another major success is the Cruciform Hub - an innovative new study space located in the Cruciform building featuring a modern library, spacious computer workroom and other flexible study spaces.
From the start of term, the hub will be open 24-hours alongside the UCL Main Library and UCL Science Library.
The summer months are when much of our strategic maintenance is undertaken and this year has included a package of infrastructure improvements to the Roberts Building and a window replacement programme at the DMS Watson.
In addition, over 20 'Quick Wins' projects have been delivered in partnership with academic departments which will make small, yet tangible, improvements to the student experience.
Projects getting underway
A number of major projects are now getting underway including the redevelopment of the Physics Yard to create the Wilkins Terrace - a visually stunning social, events and amenity space; major refurbishment of the Lower Refectory; redevelopment of Wates House to create a new home for the Bartlett and refurbishment of the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre.
New temporary structures
There will be further social learning space available to students in the new Student Social Hub, a semi-permanent pavilion that has been installed in the Japanese Garden. Intended purely for student use, it will also be used by UCLU student societies in the evenings and at weekends.
Staff will have access to a separate pavilion in the Main Quad, which will offer facilities for events such as conferences, concerts and exhibitions and is due to be completed shortly.
I'm particularly grateful to our Estates team for responding so creatively to the space constraints posed by the Transforming UCL programme.
Pressures on teaching space
Last week I wrote to Deans and Heads of Departments about the combination of increased student numbers and the impact of a number of key Transforming UCL projects, causing tremendous strain on the centrally bookable teaching spaces. Whilst additional spaces have been acquired - at Birkbeck and elsewhere - booking of teaching spaces for Term 1 had simply exceeded supply.
The response to my request to cancel any bookings - or withdraw requests for rooms - for teaching events or meetings that were not actually going ahead was astounding and the Room Bookings team have been inundated with calls about booked rooms that were no longer required. I thank you all for that response and gently request that such behaviours now change permanently, to reflect a more collaborative way of working in future.
A Learning Spaces Project Board - chaired by Professor Anthony Smith (Vice Provost, Education and Student Affairs) - is being established to strategically review, monitor and make recommendations on a number of related activities in respect of academic timetabling, room bookings, and the quality and quantity of teaching and learning spaces.
Health and safety on campus
As we ramp up construction activity it is essential that safety is our top priority. The scale of building work getting underway across our congested estate is unprecedented, which without appropriate mitigation could potentially cause significant danger to staff, students and the general public.
UCL Estates has been taking action to minimise such risks: for example, through a consolidated approach to managing logistics to support multiple major projects on site; the appointment of traffic marshals; and the use of revised safety routes and assembly points, temporary road closures and so on. While some of these measures may cause inconvenience, they are essential to keeping all of us safe.
In addition, over the past year, UCL Estates has been reviewing arrangements for managing contractors with a view to improving both procedures and practices. Much has been done in respect of safety, but we must all remain vigilant.
As you walk around campus, you are therefore all asked to take responsibility for promptly reporting any unsafe activity or inappropriate behaviours to the Customer Service Centre (x30000 or 020 7679 0000): please don't walk by and rely on someone else doing this.
With the corridors outside my office suddenly a hive of activity, I'm acutely aware of how challenging it is to have all this construction work taking place, now that students and staff have returned to campus.
However, I hope that, by now, you appreciate just how critical the Transforming UCL programme is to our future, and so I ask you again to bear with us during the disruption.
At the same time, I'd like to stress how much we need to work together throughout this period - confident in the knowledge that our remodelled campus will be one in which we will be able to take great pride.
To keep you informed about future developments, there are now a series of eye-catching hoardings with further project information on affected buildings and there will regular updates on the Transforming UCL website at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/transforming-ucl/ and in The Week@UCL.
UCL President & Provost