Competing Masterplan Visions for MK:U Revealed

MK:U will be an economic asset for the whole UK

03 MKU Concept Designs image

Top row, left to right: Co:MK:U; Hawkins\Brown; Hopkins Architects. Bottom row, left to right: OMA; Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Images © Malcolm Reading Consultants / respective teams

Milton Keynes Council (MKC), Cranfield University and MK:U International Design Competition organisers, Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), posted online today [4 July 2019] alternative masterplan visions for MK:U, a proposed new model university in the Oxford to Cambridge innovation arc.

Five finalist teams are vying to win the competition and their masterplans are now available to view on the competition website.

The proposed new university, which is due to open to its first undergraduates in 2023, will focus on digital economy skills and practical, business-oriented courses; it also plans to offer fast-track two-year degrees. MK:U, a partnership between MKC 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. Benefitting 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.

MK:U recently announced a £30m boost from Santander, one of the biggest corporate gifts to British higher education in recent years. And MK:U’s focus on technology skills is timely — research published this month by the government’s Digital Economy Council found Britain to be creating more $1 billion technology companies than any other country apart from the US and China.

The first stage of the competition, which launched in January 2019, 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 £188 m), including a masterplan and key buildings for the 10-hectare city centre site, and for 61,120 sqm of built area.

The designs, along with physical models and videos, will also go on display in a free exhibition, Milton Keynes: A Journey to 2050, between 4–7 July 2019 in Middleton Hall, thecentre:mk, Milton Keynes. MKC is encouraging public feedback on the concepts, either by comment card or email to [email protected]. Feedback will be passed to the twelve competition jurors who will meet to interview the teams and select the winner later in the month.

Professor Lynette Ryals OBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Cranfield University and Chief Executive, MK:U, said:

‘MK:U is going to be an economic asset to the whole UK, not just Milton Keynes, creating the graduates that businesses say they desperately need and addressing the national and international skills shortages in fast-growing new technologies and industries. Seeing the designs by our five shortlisted teams for the first time is a major boost for the project and for the city.
‘MK:U will be something that MK should be really proud of; it’s a hugely ambitious and forward-thinking plan. We want every MK resident to visit the competition website and give us their views on the designs.’

Councillor Pete Marland, Leader of Milton Keynes Council, said:

‘The competition has produced five thought-provoking pieces of design for our jury to review, and it’s now our task to pick the right team to work with. We’ll be looking in close detail at the submissions as well as listening to local feedback. The University Quarter is the last major undeveloped site in our city centre and an opportunity to create new energy in our public spaces through exceptional design.’

Malcolm Reading, Competition Director, said:

‘This is a competition focused on placemaking at both the city and institutional scale, and all five teams have answered the brief with sophisticated propositions.
‘These concept designs all complement MK’s emblematic urban grid pattern but offer five different identities for MK:U. They respond to the context, environment and history of MK with diverse strategies to give the new University powerful civic presence, to connect it to the wider city, and mix green public space with academic and student residential space.’

MK:U is one of the flagship projects of the strategic MK Futures 2050 Programme, which was set up to enable the city to grow and flourish — MK being the fastest-growing city in the UK and expected to support a population of half a million by 2050.

The five finalist teams are:

  • Co:MK:U — WilkinsonEyre and AECOM with Spaces that Work, Mecanoo, dRMM, Publica, Contemporary Art Society and Tricon
  • Hawkins\Brown with KCAP, Grant Associates, BuroHappold Engineering and Sam Jacob Studio
  • Hopkins Architects with Prior + Partners, Expedition Engineering, Atelier Ten, GROSS. MAX., Buro 4, RLB Schumann, GRFN, Caneparo Associates, QCIC, Nick Perry Associates, Access=Design, Cordless Consultants, Sandy Brown Associates, FMDC and Tricon
  • Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands with Architecture 00, Heyne Tillett Steel, Hoare Lea, Bradley-Hole Schoenaich Landscape Architects, Ken Baker, Steer, Iceni, Abell Nepp, Mark London, FMDC, People Friendly Design, PFB Construction Management and FiD
  • OMA with BuroHappold Engineering, Planit-IE, Nicholas Hare Architects, Carmody Groarke, Galmstrup, Approved Consultant Services and Russell Partnership

An honorarium of £30,000 will be paid to each finalist team for their competition work; a technical panel report will be supplied to the jury. The competition is being run under EU procurement rules and to current UK legislation.

MK:U will be delivered in three phases and will complete within 15 years, when the fully-fledged university will serve 15,000 students.

Located at the heart of the Oxford to Cambridge innovation arc and just 30 minutes from London by train, MK, now known as a Smart City, has excellent connectivity; its proximity to the M1 motorway and rail network means twenty million people can reach it within 60 minutes.