Go Big Red

Hopkins Architects wins international competition to design Milton Keynes university

The center of the MK:U scheme revolves around a red lecture theater. (Courtesy Hopkins Architects' team)

The MK:U International Design Competition—a collaboration between Milton Keynes Council (MKC) and Cranfield University—announced Hopkins Architects as the unanimously selected winner of their new model university competition launched in early 2019. Milton Keynes is a large town in Buckinghamshire, England, to the west of London.

The winning scheme was chosen mainly because of its clarity and confidence. The plan boldly illustrates a red centerpiece at the heart of the new project. Encased in an all-glass lobby “reminiscent of a giant friendship bead” is the round forum building featuring a central lecture theatre.

MK:U’s plans to reach “beyond the scope of a traditional university” and will focus on vocational and STEM subjects relating to digital, robotics and artificial intelligence. The MK Futures 2050 program anticipates the population of the Buckinghamshire new town will more than double. The proposed new university is scheduled to open to its first undergraduates in 2023. It is expected to be delivered in three phases and complete within 15 years.

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.”

Rendering of a university overpass. (Courtesy Hopkins Architects’ team)

Inspired by the famous infinity street at MIT, the project creates an open quarter with a series of orthogonal academic pavillions described as “new urban frontage” and a pedestrian and bike-friendly atmosphere envisioned for the future. Hopkins’ proposal echos MK’s original vision with “calm, super-rational buildings surrounded by greenery.”

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.”

The jury included Santander UK CEO Nathan Bostock, ITV’s non-executive chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette, professor Dame Madeleine Atkins, and was chaired by chief executive and vice-chancellor of Cranfield University, professor Sir Peter Gregson.

An aerial site plan of a college campus

Site plan of the new university. (Courtesy Hopkins Architects’ team)

The winning team is drawn from international firms and suggests a collaborative approach. This includes 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.

“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.” said Taylor.

Long glazed hall with red conference room in the center

Students walking past the forum building (Courtesy Hopkins Architects’ team)

The original competition attracted 53 team submissions made up of 257 individual firms from across the globe. Other shortlisted finalists were led by Co:MK:U; Hawkins\Brown; Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands; and OMA. The shortlisted team’s design proposals can be seen on the competition website.

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