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6 August, 2019 - 18:52 By Kate Sweeney

Hopkins leads design team for futuristic university in Milton Keynes

A global team led by London-based Hopkins Architects has won an international design competition to fashion an innovative Milton Keynes University.

MK:U, a partnership between Milton Keynes Council and Cranfield University, will use the new university quarter and the wider city as a ‘living lab’ to test out new concepts and ideas, and inspire Milton Keynes’ students and citizens. 

Benefiting from the last major undeveloped site in the city centre and mixing university facilities with public spaces MK:U will also be a destination open 24/7, welcoming the wider community.

The proposed new university, which is due to open to its first undergraduates in 2023, will focus on digital economy skills; new technologies including AI, robotics and cyber security; and practical, business-and-entrepreneurship-oriented courses as well as courses in design thinking and professional and commercial skills. The university also plans to offer fast-track two-year undergraduate degrees.

A distinguished jury which chose Hopkins included Santander UK plc CEO Nathan Bostock, ITV’s non-executive chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette, and Professor Dame Madeleine Atkins, President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. It was chaired by chief executive and vice-chancellor of Cranfield University, Professor Sir Peter Gregson.

The jurors were persuaded by the clarity and confidence of Hopkins Architects’ competition concept design, as well as the team’s collaborative approach to creating exceptional higher educational buildings internationally and the quality of their team which included, amongst others, leading engineers, Expedition Engineering, and landscape design partners, GROSS.MAX.

The winning team described their competition scheme as an open quarter with a bold new urban frontage made up of a series of orthogonal academic pavilions, showcasing the university’s activities in new technologies such as AI and robotics; their vision taking its inspiration from the famous infinity street at MIT in the US. 

The scheme both echoes the format of the original MK vision with calm super-rational buildings surrounded by greenery, while also envisaging a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly future.

Image courtesy – Hopkins Architects

A new civic realm for the proposed new university quarter includes a graduation lawn and formal water feature. 

The forum, the scheme’s centrepiece, is immediately recognisable with an eye-catching drum-shaped red lecture theatre within the glass entrance lobby, reminiscent of a giant friendship bead, which is welcoming to students, visitors and locals.

Hopkins Architects recently completed the new Smith Campus Center at Harvard University, which is designed to foster the campus’s intellectual, cultural and social experience, and support the wider community. 

Highlights from the practice’s extensive and varied portfolio include the London 2012 Velodrome, the George Green Library at Nottingham University, the Wellcome Trust: Gibbs Building, and the award-winning eco-building, the WWF-UK’s Living Planet Centre.

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