Provost's View: UCL Laws and the rebirth of Bentham House
23 March 2017
It has been been three years since we launched
One significant project within this programme is the refurbishment of the iconic Bentham House, which has been home to UCL Laws for more than 50 years. I was, therefore, delighted to recently join Professor Dame Hazel Genn, Dean of UCL Laws, on a tour to see how the £22 million Bentham House project is progressing.
The history of Bentham House
UCL Laws moved into Bentham House in 1965, with the building having previously been the headquarters for the National Union of General and Municipal Workers.
The faculty had made a number of improvements to the building over the years. In 2001, the faculty extended its space by acquiring neighbouring Hillel House and completing further renovation to create the Gideon Schreier Wing.
In 2011, extensive works to drain the River Fleet's flood plain from ground and basement floors were undertaken, providing among other teaching spaces, the 156-seat Denys Holland Lecture Theatre, which was formally opened by H.R.H The Princess Royal.
By 2013, with the estate being almost 50 years old, it was increasingly difficult to accommodate the needs of staff and students, with pressures on teaching space, office space and student services becoming more apparent with each academic year.
In order for UCL Laws to grow and to ensure that all Laws students could continue to be taught exclusively within Bentham House, a new building and some fresh thinking was required.
The vision for Bentham House
Under the direction of UCL Estates, architects Levitt Bernstein created a design that combines the historic Grade II-listed Bentham House, with UCL's overarching goal of creating a world-class environment for research, teaching and learning.
It gives UCL Laws additional modern space in which to innovate while maintaining the historical attachment to Bentham House.
The building has expanded by 1,500m2 to 6,500m2 of space, connecting all of the upper floors and allowing for greater wheelchair accessibility. Previous users of Bentham House will remember how difficult it was to navigate between the different wings and this will be a very welcome change when UCL Laws move back.
Directly adjoining new teaching and events spaces, a new bright, spacious café and social hub will become the focal point for life and events in the faculty, providing students, staff, alumni and friends with a place to meet, relax and share ideas.
One of the aspects that impressed me on my visit was how the design puts students, and student space, in the heart of the building. This feature within the new integrated building will continue to foster the sense of community and attachment to the faculty that UCL Laws students have historically demonstrated.
On the lower floors, a suite of flexible teaching spaces is being created, along with a specialist study centre for graduate students. The dedicated study space will allow PhD students to study on-site, alongside academics, and to be in the midst of the thriving research culture at UCL Laws.
The fifth floor of Bentham House will become a dedicated legal research hub. The space will provide researchers such as those from the Bentham Project, the UCL Centre for Access to Justice and the UCL Judicial Institute with room for specialist resources to facilitate their work.
Visiting academics, scholars and distinguished judicial visitors will also be welcomed, allowing collaborative working and space to exchange ideas, strengthening the faculty's ability to work towards the UCL aims of responding to the grand challenges facing today's world.
Engaging with the wider UCL Laws community
Members of UCL Laws have a strong sense of community, even long after graduating. Many alumni, now at the top of their professions, often ask after Bentham House and recount stories about their time studying and socialising there.
Crucial developments to Bentham House over the years would not have been possible without the generosity and continuing support of the faculty's alumni and friends.
Particular thanks are owed to the late Sir Bernard Schreier for the Gideon Schreier Wing, to Vincent Cheung (LLB 1965) for the Denys Holland Lecture Theatre and to Winston Chu (LLB, 1960) for the Cissy Chu Common room.
To show gratitude for the continued support, UCL Laws invited key alumni to visit Bentham House earlier this month and see for themselves how the project is advancing.
The group explored a number of new aspects of the building, along with hearing a talk from the architects and project team. The architects shared the vision for Bentham House, the challenges and issues that have been overcome so far and the benefits of the redevelopment for the next 50 years.
Staff and students also toured the building and met with the architects, ahead of their anticipated return to the building in late 2017.
The students took photos and made videos, demonstrating the excitement among the UCL Laws student body at once again having a home of their own.
Now that the Bentham House redevelopment is into its final year, key milestones are coming thick and fast.
In late January, Professor Dame Hazel Genn completed the topping out of Bentham House, an important construction milestone, with the building reaching its full height of 44.863m just shorter than Nelson's Column.
Over the coming months, cranes will be removed from the site, the scaffolding will come down, revealing how the Portland Stone façade has united the wings - and the end of the project will begin to feel very real. Then there is just the job of installing state-of-the-art audio-visual facilities and furniture and moving in staff and students.
With the activities UCL Laws already undertakes in Bloomsbury, it could be easy to forget that the Faculty also has a presence in east London, reaching out to other communities outside of UCL.
The Sir Ludwig Guttmann Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Stratford houses the pro bono UCL Legal Advice Clinic (UCL LAC), run by the UCL Centre for Access to Justice (UCL CAJ), which is staffed by UCL Laws students under the supervision of experienced, qualified advisers and lawyers.
The only student legal advice clinic co-located with a GP surgery, the UCL LAC is a unique and innovative initiative working across disciplines to improve health and wellbeing.
The UCL CAJ recently marked helping their first 100 clients, engaging with, and contributing to, the local community by advising local residents on all aspects of social welfare law including welfare benefits and housing.
The social impact of centres such as the UCL CAJ is one of the many reasons that I am very proud to be President and Provost of UCL. As a result of the important work that UCL CAJ does, last year, it became one of the cornerstones of UCL's 'It's All Academic' campaign, demonstrating the place that UCL holds in London, and how it continues to support UCL's tradition of supporting the development of our city.
When Bentham House reopens, the UCL CAJ will have the dedicated space that it requires and deserves to continue its longstanding activities in Bloomsbury, while developments at UCL East, the new campus at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, mean that the UCL CAJ will be able to grow and expand its activities even further across London.
Transforming Bentham House - front view time lapse
Keep up to date
Visit the UCL Laws website to see how Bentham House is progressing, watch time-lapse videos, view images of key milestones and take a virtual tour of the building.
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About Transforming UCL
The redevelopment of Bentham House has been delivered by UCL Estates as part of Transforming UCL, the largest capital programme in the university's history.
Transforming UCL will see substantial investment of more than £1.2 billion over a 10-year period to refurbish and develop some of UCL's most iconic buildings while also bringing forward new world-class buildings. Together, these will enable and support the university's continued emphasis on providing the facilities required for long term world-leading academic excellence.
Professor Michael Arthur
President & Provost