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Exclusive: Milton Keynes university contest winner revealed

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The AJ can reveal that a team led by Hopkins Architects has won the international contest to design a new university in Milton Keynes

Inspired by the famous Infinite Corridor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the scheme for the ‘new model’ university was chosen unanimously ahead of bids by OMA, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, Hawkins\Brown and WilkinsonEyre.

The jury in the Malcolm Reading Consultants-organised contest praised the ’clarity and confidence’ of Hopkins’ concept design for MK:U’s 61,120m² first phase – which comes with a budget of £188 million.

According to the winning team (see full details below), its proposal would create ’an open quarter with a bold new urban frontage made up of a series of orthogonal academic pavilions’ which echoed the ’format of the original MK vision with calm super-rational buildings surrounded by greenery’.

The forum at the heart of the scheme will feature a drum-shaped, red lecture theatre within the glass entrance lobby ’reminiscent of a giant friendship bead, which is welcoming to students, visitors and locals’.

MK:U, which plans to reach ‘beyond the scope of a traditional university’, is scheduled to have its first phase open in 2023 and, when complete in 2034, will take 15,000 students. The university will focus on vocational and STEM subjects relating to digital, robotics and artificial intelligence.

The project – backed by Cranfield University and Milton Keynes Council – is one of the flagship elements of the MK Futures 2050 programme, which anticipates that the population of the Buckinghamshire new town will more than double by 2050.

A 10ha unused plot close to Milton Keynes station has been earmarked for its campus, bordered by Grafton Street, Witan Gate, Aylesbury Boulevard and Childs Way.

The winning team and shortlist in full

  • [WINNER] Hopkins Architects with Prior + Partners, Expedition Engineering, Atelier Ten, GROSS. MAX., Buro Four, RLB Schumann, GRFN, Caneparo Associates, QCIC, Nick Perry Associates, Access=Design, Cordless Consultants, Sandy Brown Associates, FMDC and Tricon
  • 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
  • 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

The judging panel was chaired by Cranfield University chief executive and vice-chancellor Peter Gregson. It includes Madeleine Atkins, president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, Peter Bazalgette, the non-executive chairman of ITV, and Paul Williams of Stanton Williams.

MK:U chief executive programme director Lynette Ryals said: ‘The jury was impressed by Hopkins and their proposals… a design that will capture the excitement and innovation of Milton Keynes and reimagine its architecture for a digital and high-technology future.’

Competition director Malcolm Reading said: ‘The Hopkins scheme celebrates and develops the emblematic Milton Keynes urban design principles, elegantly re-interpreting the concept of the original town block.’

Mike Taylor, principal, Hopkins Architects, added: ’This commission is special because MK:U presents a unique opportunity to rethink higher education through its radical curriculum focusing on the digital economy.

The next step is to test our ideas with the university leaders, local council and people of Milton Keynes

’By bringing new academic and commercial activity, jobs and social life to the city centre, we also have the opportunity to renew the civic identity of Milton Keynes, which at 50 years old is once again looking to the future.

’All our best projects have come about through a collaborative process and the next step is to test the ideas we had during the competition with the university leaders, local council and people of Milton Keynes. Our team are all very enthusiastic about getting started on the creative process together.’

The result was not predicted by AJ readers who, in an online poll, narrowly chose Hawkins\Brown’s submission (35% of the vote) ahead of OMA’s concept design (34% of the vote). Hopkins and the WilkinsonEyre-led team were joint third (each getting 11% of the vote). Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came last.

The original competition attracted 53 team submissions made up of 257 individual firms from across the globe.

Each of the five teams received £30,000 to draw up proposals.

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