UCL News


Provost's View: Transforming UCL - creating the best possible environment for students and staff

23 February 2017

Defining what we do as an institution is critical and when we launched

New Student Centre, Gordon Street view ucl.ac.uk/2034" target="_self">UCL 2034, we set out six principle themes for the university for the next 20 years. But we also identified the key enablers - those elements of our work that support us in achieving our purpose and our mission.

The estate is one of those key enablers - it enables us all to do our work effectively - with spaces that inspire creativity, collaboration and learning.

At the end of last year, I was delighted to see the completion and opening of 22 Gordon Street. This building is the biggest project delivered as part of Transforming UCL to date and is a new headquarters for UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment and home to UCL Bartlett School of Architecture. 

It also sets the bar high for other projects, which are either in design or construction.

Not only does 22 Gordon Street provide double the amount of teaching space, the quality and variety of space will support learning and collaboration between students and academics. And the large exhibition space on the ground floor opens the building to the public and will be used to showcase the incredible and innovative work of our students.

The building epitomises what we are aiming to achieve through Transforming UCL - significant improvement across our estate, improving the student experience, supporting the many ways of learning and creating knowledge and ensuring that we remain world-class for teaching, learning research, innovation and enterprise.

We want to create the best possible environment for students and staff to excel.

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Responding to evolving methods of learning

Of course, with so much money being invested in the estate, £1.25 billion over 10 years, it is not just about new buildings. This is an opportunity to redesign spaces and places in response to evolving methods of learning and developing knowledge, with much more informal interaction, cross-disciplinary engagement and peer collaboration.

This approach to the learning environment is best exemplified in the New Student Centre, which is currently being constructed next to the Bloomsbury Theatre, and is arguably the centrepiece of the capital programme in Bloomsbury.

There will be 1,000 new 'study seats' created and more than 300 computers available. But I am most excited about the way that the space encourages interaction, discussion and collaboration.

It has been designed with informal, flexible spaces, quiet spaces, social spaces - places to go with friends to talk through ideas and places to go and get your head down and study hard

This blueprint for the design of our learning spaces is being reflected right across our portfolio of projects. The redevelopment of Bentham House, the home of UCL Laws, hit an important construction milestone last month, with the building reaching its full height of 44.863m.

The £21.7 million structural extension is now almost complete, and fit out will take place during the next few months. When finished it will offer an increase of 1,500m2 and house more than 100 staff, 1,000 students and specialist research and pro-bono initiatives in over 180 rooms.

When I visited the project last week, I was amazed at how transformative it will be. I also liked the fact that spaces for students were right in the heart of the new building, and fully integrated with the academic community.

The Kathleen Lonsdale Building is currently undergoing an extensive internal refurbishment. Towards the end of last year, a new state of the art laboratory was completed to support the latest techniques for the medical imaging of diseases, such as cancer and dementias.

Recently, work on the ground floor was completed providing a new space for the Earth Sciences Rock Room museum, which will display rocks, minerals and fossils collected over 175 years. It is well worth a look, so do pay a visit.

We are also making good use of parts of our estate that have previously stood empty or been underdeveloped.

Revitalising our neglected spaces

The Courtauld Building has been derelict for almost 10 years and will now be remodelled with a new main entrance on Cleveland Street and a new roof, as well as new teaching and work space.

It will bring together UCL and the Medical Research Council's Prion Unit, one of the world's leading research centres into the basic mechanisms by which prion proteins lead to this degenerative disease of the brain. 

The ultimate aim is to translate that knowledge into new treatments for this devastating disease.

And in order to address the urgent need for additional study spaces, we are also remodelling and refurbishing the ground and basement floors of 1-19 Torrington Place to create informal 'social seats' - where students will be encouraged to congregate, mingle and collaborate outside of their lectures and lessons. This will become one of our largest teaching facilities.

It has also been important for us to address other parts of the non-academic estate - walkways, terraces, corridors, cafes - all of which help to frame our lives at UCL.

I remember when I first arrived at UCL and looked out of the windows of the North Cloisters, I couldn't believe the way that some of our most valuable space was being used for parking, waste stockpiling, storage (all important operational requirements but quite unsightly given their historical surroundings!).

A place to take time out and relax

It is why I am very excited at the prospect of the new Wilkins Terrace and the new refectory. The terrace is a platform constructed over some of our necessary operational spaces to provide fabulous new outdoor space for events, learning, performances and exhibitions.

It is a place where students and staff can take time out and relax. And it will provide a new accessible route through to Gordon Street.

Next to the terrace, the new refectory will offer catering facilities for staff, students and their guests in the heart of central campus.

This will be a place to pick up a meal or a quick snack as well as another place to sit with friends and colleagues, with more than 320 new seats being provided.

And yet, with an estate of more than 230 buildings, we are not going to be able to undertake major improvements everywhere. 

In many of our buildings, we need to maintain good quality conditions - preserving our teaching spaces, teaching equipment and furniture, and maintaining our heating, cooling and ventilation systems to support our working environments.

The recent replacement of windows in the Christopher Ingold Building has transformed the working conditions and environment in the building and is a great example of the work being undertaken through our maintenance programme.

Beyond our work to improve the academic estate, we will be modernising UCL's student accommodation.

The first part of this programme is the refurbishment and extension of Astor College. From September 2018, the number of rooms in Astor College will increase by 60 to 291 with new ensuite accommodation..

The proposal is to create 'cluster blocks' to encourage communal living and help students to develop those crucial social networks and friendships in their first year.

Our eastward expansion

And further afield, our initial presence on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will begin to take shape later this year.

We are developing the large working space at Here East to allow students to work on collaborative projects from a range of disciplines including architecture, computer science and robotics. 

The move east is vital to UCL's future and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park offers an exciting environment both in terms of the space for our academic and teaching activities and also the facilities in the vicinity of the park.

Here East allows us to provide new courses and activities that we can't offer on the Bloomsbury campus due to a lack of space. It will also be vital that we maintain a link between Here East and the Bloomsbury campus.

In September, we will be offering four new courses which will utilise both Here East and 22 Gordon Street giving students the opportunity to experience the range of facilities on offer.

All of this activity is being delivered with the highest standards of design quality, sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility - reflecting the principles for the estate and our approach to teaching and learning, which were established in UCL 2034.

I am truly looking forward to the next few years and realising the physical transformation of this great university.

Professor Michael Arthur
President & Provost

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