A New City University Takes Shape

MK:U’s Forward Looking Model Explored in Detail


Winning entry by Hopkins Architects (© Malcolm Reading Consultants / Hopkins Architects)


Milton Keynes, known simply as MK, represented one of the more significant results of the UK’s “new town” programs from the 1950s and 60s. Situated almost equidistant between Oxford and Cambridge, and within easy access from London, the city had everything one might expect from a modern community—except a university. For a city having a population exceeding 250,000, and projected to have 500,000 inhabitants by 2050, that will all change, as a competition supported by the MK Council (MKC) and Cranfield University has resulted in five firms competing for the opportunity to design a higher educational institution to eventually accommodate 15,000 students.


To be built in three phases, with each increment to accommodate 5,000 student, the first of these is to be completed by 2023, with the following two phases to be finished by 2033, according to the present five-year plans. Beginning with the establishment of the Polytechnics in the 50s and 60s, this program is supposed to “transform thinking about higher education and create a new exemplar that is open, accessible, dynamic, technologically focused, innovative, diverse, business-oriented and entrepreneurial.” The format of the university is very different from others—it’s an intense program closely aligned with industry needs and resources—not a typical undergrad model. There is a significant focus on diverse learning and study spaces, with digital resources (Malcolm Reading).


To emphasize the broader mission of the university as a collaborative entity of the city and region, the decision was made to locate MK:U in the central downtown core. By doing so, it was understood that it would “go beyond the scope of a traditional university, using its own University Quarter and the wider city as a ‘living lab’ to test out new concepts and ideas, and inspire MK’s students and citizens.”


The Site


The plot for MK:U constitutes an entire city block of approximately 10.1 hectares, and is surrounded by streets and neighboring city blocks on all four sites. It is only a nearby ten-minute walk from the local rail station, which could serve to mitigate the need for parking, as should the construction of dormitories for almost 1,000 students—one-fifths of the student body—during each phase of construction.


The space limitations imposed by the location of the site would suggest that the size of the student body can not ideally exceed 15,000. This would suggest that the institution will eventually be forced to become highly selective in its admission policy, though just an undergraduate university. Another result of the site limitations is the need for a higher density building program, which resulted in different approaches from the five firms that showcased their designs during the competition phase.

Winning entry by Hopkins Architects (© Malcolm Reading Consultants / Hopkins Architects)


The Jury


The composition of the jury was heavy on laypersons who were experienced in the administration and planning of higher education institutions:

• Professor Sir Peter Gregson, (Jury Chair) Chief Executive and Vice Chancellor, Cranfield University
• Prof. Dame Madeleine Atkins, President, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
• Sir Peter Bazalgette, Non-Executive Chairman, ITV
• Joe Berridge, Partner, UrbanStrategies, Inc., Toronto
• Nathan Bostock, Chief Executive Officer, Santander UK plc
• Dr. Rebecca Kurth BEM, Chair, Central Milton Keynes Town Council
• Councillor Peter Marland, Leader, Milton Keynes Council
• Sumit Paul-Choudhury, Founder and Managing Director of Alternity
• Professor Lynette Ryals OBE, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cranfield University and Chief Executive, MK:U
• Phil Smith, Former Chairman, Cisco UK & Ireland
• Anthony Spira, Director, MK Gallery
• Paul Williams OBE, Principal Director, Stanton Williams Architects


The Competition


The initial Expression of Interest attracted 53 team submissions comprising 257 individual firms from across the globe. The five finalist design teams who reached the second stage were asked to submit concept designs for phase one (construction budget approximately L188 m), including a masterplan and key buildings for the 10-hectare city centre site, and for 61,120 sqm of built area.


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A Paean to its Founders in Weimar

New Bauhaus Museum Commemorates an Anniversary


2012 COMPETITIONS Annual with Weimar Bauhaus Competition WInner Design  Image: ©Heike Hanada

As projected, the Weimar Bauhaus Museum, one of two new Bauhaus museums scheduled to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Germany, has opened its doors in Weimar. The new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, also the product of a competition, is to open in September of this year.

Before my visit to the Weimar museum, opinions about the museum’s design had appeared in various German publications, i.e., Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berliner Tagesspiegel, etc.—one in particular not very flattering. So my arrival in Weimar was filled with much anticipation, especially since we had covered the original competition in some detail in the 2012 COMPETITIONS Annual (above).


Front view of museum from city parcel  Photo: ©Andrew Alberts


What was initially absent from the competition proposal by the project’s author and competition winner, Heike Hanada, was a water feature leading from the street toward the entrance. The basin was not intended simply as an incidental landscape feature, but an integral design feature, focusing the attention from the street toward the museum. Instead one finds paving, the victim of a decision by the client, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, to split the site and stage an additional competition for the new parcel—and not extending an invitation to a member of the winning Hanada team to compete. The resulting design by the winner of the second competiiton, Vogt Landscape Architect of Zürich, completely ignored the Hanada design, instead covering the parcel at the street almost completely with light stone paving and a curious depression. The result? Attention from the street was no longer diverted away from the neighboring Nazi era, Mussolini style neighbor while focusing on the main event, but totally disrupting the harmonious scheme as envisioned by the winning entry. In no way did it suggest an extension of the landscape from the building to the street as an integral design element.

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