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Global competition to design the new MK:U is launched

Cranfield University, which is leading the project, and Milton Keynes Council have launched an international architectural competition that will be judged by a panel of public figures involved in architecture and urban planning.

The winning design is expected to deliver an “outstanding synthesis of architecture, landscaping, public realm and student experience, setting a new standard in university architecture and a creating a memorable destination for citizens”.

Initially, entrants are asked to submit an expression of interest at https://competitions.malcolmreading.com/mku/, alongside key company details. Five shortlisted entrants will then be announced in spring ahead of a public exhibition of the competing concepts, held in central Milton Keynes.

The winning design will be revealed later this summer.

Professor Lynette Ryals, pro vice-chancellor at Cranfield and chief executive if MK:U Ltd, said: “The competition will set out a fascinating design challenge, to create a world-class university that offers a new model of education at the heart of the fast-growing, high-tech Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford innovation arc.

  • Pictured: Professor Lynette Ryals, chief executive of MKU Ltd 

“We will be searching for outstanding multi-disciplinary teams that connect with our vision and relate to Milton Keynes, a smart city with an entrepreneurial mindset and a great place to try out new technologies and future ways of living.”

MK:U aims to provide a distinctive undergraduate curriculum including digital, cyber, autonomy, robotics and artificial intelligence. In each of the university’s key areas of focus, there will be a lead business partner which will help to prepare students for the future world of work.

It is planned that around 15,000 students will eventually study at MK:U with the first 5,000 arriving in 2023.

Milton Keynes Council leader Cllr Pete Marland said: “MK:U will have an exceptionally strong relationship to MK because the city’s long-term future, and ambition to grow to half a million residents by 2050, depends on retaining and attracting talent.”

The university is a key part of achieving Milton Keynes’ long-term vision, he added.

The MK:U campus will be built on 10.1 hectares of land, the only major undeveloped block remaining in central Milton Keynes, between the shopping district and Milton Keynes Central rail station. The built area will be approximately 61,000 sq metres.

Architects have been asked to consider the distinct character and heritage of Milton Keynes, as well as creating an iconic new building that meets the university’s aspirations as a ‘digital playground’ with pioneering ways of teaching.

The design must also meet the highest sustainability standards, suitable for a city with a long-established reputation for innovation, including the world’s first solar powered house, the first in the UK to adopt energy standards in buildings and recent advances in electric car networks and autonomous driving systems.

Cllr Marland said: “MK:U is the city’s most important project in a generation and the council is fully committed to making it a great success. As well as learning and skills benefits, we are looking to MK:U to bring increased vibrancy to the city centre and to work closely with local employers to help grow their businesses.”

The university quarter will also welcome local people not enrolled as students. As well as teaching spaces and accommodation, it will include a forum for events and exhibitions, a café, an innovation centre and sports facilities.

The competition is being run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, whose recent work includes competitions for University College Dublin and the Royal College of Art. 

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