UCL News


UCL East - next steps

10 December 2015

I would like to update colleagues on a key strategic priority supporting our UCL 2034 vision - the creation of UCL East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP).

olympicpark Since the 5 May 'Market Place' event, when Professor David Price presented the academic vision for the project and showcased some of the 63 academic proposals for activities at the new campus, a huge amount of work has been going on behind the scenes to refine the bids for activities to be included within the first phase of UCL East, which is due to open in the 2019/20 academic year.

As you will appreciate, developing the initial concepts into fully worked proposals has involved an enormous amount of work on the part of individual colleagues and departments. I would like to record my thanks to them all for the enthusiastic way they have embraced our vision for UCL East. Taking forward all of the proposals would have filled the available space more than twice over, so I'm afraid that it is inevitable that some teams will be disappointed. However, I would like to reassure them that the hard work undertaken over the last year will not be wasted, since this process has produced valuable new thinking on how we can continue to innovate across all our sites in the years to come.

Academic proposals whittled down to a shortlist

As I write, the field of applications has been reduced to 17 academic proposals and the UCL East Academic Board is now considering how the shortlisted projects can be taken forward, alongside the required professional support activities, into the planning process informing the development of the masterplan for the site. We hope to be able to update colleagues on the key decisions concerning the academic content for UCL East in early spring 2016.

Whatever the final mix of activities, there are certain key principles that guide our academic vision to provide an outstanding environment for experiment, learning and scholarship for students, staff, collaborators and the wider public.

We want to create an environment inspiring both intellectual excellence and generosity in sharing knowledge and understanding. We want to enable innovative activities that are not possible in our existing estate and we have prioritised propositions that break down traditional barriers between teaching, research, enterprise and public engagement. We want to support a collegiate approach working across disciplinary boundaries and to create a sustainable and flexible working environment that can adapt to currently unforeseeable changes in UCL's long-term needs.

We have a strong emphasis on promoting new kinds of experiences for all learners, in line with the key themes of the new UCL Education Strategy: education through research and enquiry; education through participation; and education through experience.

I believe that the first confirmed activity for UCL East illustrates this approach. I can confirm that the campus will include the UCL Legal Clinic run by the UCL Centre for Access to Justice. Proposed by UCL Laws, this builds on our existing links with the communities of East London and the pilot activity within the Guttmann Health and Wellbeing Centre in Stratford and enables innovative approaches to education and research through the delivery of service to the public.

Themes uniting UCL East

More generally, the propositions link in various ways across the four themes of Experiment, Art, Society, and Technology (a different EAST!). These cover a wide range of topics including, amongst others:

• creativity and material culture - the relationships between humans and the things we create;

• future global cities - particularly the long-term interactions between built and natural environments and pervasive information technologies;

• experimental engineering - particularly around disruptive technologies, such as robotics, advanced materials, new forms of imaging or intelligent ultra-low carbon transport, but also innovating in how we educate engineers;

• education and research through public service - such as the Centre for Access to Justice or community social history libraries.

This feels right for what we are trying to establish in East London, linking the distinctive characteristics of the communities and places around QEOP to the capabilities of a world-leading multi-faculty university like UCL. In that context, it is worth highlighting that the "design school" label that has sometimes been used is inaccurate. Although some of these issues have a design element, UCL East will deliver a much broader and diverse multidisciplinary approach, rather than one from a design-centred perspective.

As well as these particular academic activities, the first phase of the campus will also include facilities that support students and staff across UCL, including an innovative hub for a library and student-facing services, which will build on the lessons we have learned at Bloomsbury, particularly through the process of developing the new Cruciform Hub and the New Student Centre.

Academic development and a masterplan for the site in 2016

In the New Year, to take the shortlisted proposals to the next stage of development, we will create an academic project team to work with faculties, Estates, Finance and the UCL East project and design teams to develop a cohesive academic approach to UCL East, taking into account market analyses and environmental factors. We are also engaging with external stakeholders and potential corporate and philanthropic supporters.

In parallel to this process, the UCL East project team have been working with our appointed masterplanners, LDA design, to develop a masterplan for the site. There have been some initial consultation opportunities for staff, students, residents in East London and other stakeholders, exploring their aspirations for the new campus. We will be following this up with further consultation on UCL's preferred masterplan approach during February and March.

Another key milestone will be the start of the procurement process for the design team to create the proposed new buildings. This process is likely to begin early in the New Year, with the chosen design team being in place by the spring. Again, there will be further consultation as the designs take shape next summer.

Ultimately, the twin tracks of academic planning and masterplan and design development will converge later in 2016, when we are due to submit our scheme for planning permission as part of the overall planning proposal for the wider 'Olympicopolis' site. This will bring UCL's plans together with those of our partners in the development of the wider educational and cultural quarter, including Sadler's Wells, the Victoria and Albert Museum and University of the Arts London (UAL). Our partners in the development, the London Legacy Development Corporation, are also in discussions which could see the Smithsonian Institution establish its first base outside the USA, at QEOP.

Olympicopolis event - bringing the partners together

On 5 November, I attended an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, bringing together the 'Olympicopolis' partners to present our shared vision for the next decade. Featuring interactive demonstrations of UCL research, dance performances from Sadler's Wells, exhibits from the V&A and fashionmaking from University of the Arts London, this gave guests an exciting taster of the innovative cross-disciplinary working that 'Olympicopolis' - and UCL East - embody. It was gratifying to hear London Mayor Boris Johnson praise UCL's "vision and leadership" in committing to deliver UCL East as an anchoring element of the wider 'Olympicopolis' project.

While a development process of this complexity has to be flexible, we currently envisage that, subject to planning permission, construction on site will begin during 2017 and the first UCL East facilities will open during the 2019/20 academic year.

Prior to the opening of UCL East phase one, we will be building on UCL's presence in East London through the continuing excellent work of our Public and Cultural Engagement team (PACE) and through consultation on our plans with local community stakeholders.

We have also announced plans for the UCL Bartlett and UCL Engineering Sciences to establish a collaborative space at Here East, the emerging technology hub at the former media centre at QEOP.  The UCL space will primarily be used for creative, interdisciplinary research and teaching focusing on architecture, infrastructure, transport, robotics, healthcare, manufacturing and environmental measurement. Our base at Here East is set to open during 2017 and admit its first students in September that year.

At the start of this article, I set out my belief that UCL East is a critical element in the successful delivery of UCL 2034. I would go so far as to say that UCL East represents potentially the biggest step forward for our institution since our founders established London University and began creating the campus at Bloomsbury. I know that excitement will build as the campus designs and plans take shape and I urge you all to contribute to the consultation process so that we can develop a shared vision for this once-in-a-generation project.

Please visit the UCL East website for the latest news and updates.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost

Image caption: the future site of UCL East at the QEOP

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