UCL Student Centre, London

Project team

Client:University College London

Architect:Nicholas Hare Architects

Structural Engineer:Curtins

Main Contractor:Mace

Concrete Contractor:J Coffey Construction

Photos:Nicholas Hare Architects © Alan Williams Photography

This flagship project reinforces UCL’s commitment to creating one of the most exciting universities in the world at which to study and work. The building provides a flexible environment that enhances the lives of UCL students and supports their needs and learning in the heart of the Bloomsbury campus.

The brief for the Student Centre required a truly student-focused building which would be responsive to change, be inspirational and enabling, and capable of re-inventing itself as trends in education develop. It required a building accessible to all, reflecting the diversity of its users, with architecture that is easy to read and use, and one that creates a memorable experience.

A building of the highest quality was required, both in terms of finish and longevity, but also in response to its civic conservation area context. Key components of the brief included 1,000 study spaces for students, a Student Enquiries Centre, a café and space for exhibitions.

Maximising the project opportunities

The Student Centre is built on what was the last piece of undeveloped land on Gordon Street, adjacent to the Bloomsbury Theatre. The sensitive site sits within the Bloomsbury Conservation Area and adjacent to Grade I and Grade II listed buildings. Key to successfully obtaining planning consent was our structured and collaborative approach working with the planners and stakeholders. 

Consultation was carried out with a range of external stakeholders and neighbours, and gained strong support from Design Council CABE and Historic England. As well as maximising the amount of learning space for students, the project offered the opportunity to make the most of the site’s strategic location by creating a new and vibrant approach to UCL, one which captures the outreaching ethos of the University. 

In response, the building creates a new high quality civic realm through into the Bloomsbury Campus, resolving campus circulation routes and re-inventing the existing Japanese Garden as a tranquil urban courtyard for London.

Extending the public realm

As a prominent new eastern gateway to the Bloomsbury Campus, the fully inclusive, 24/7 building provides a welcoming reception for students, the public and visitors, allowing ease of movement within it and outward to the wider university.  The generous ground and upper-ground floor levels are open to the public, and connect to the Japanese Garden and beyond.

A student workplace

With four storeys above ground plus two basement storeys, student workspace occupies the largest portion of the new building’s area. A rich variety of learning and  work environments have been provided. The spaces vary in character and size, creating different types of individual study and group collaboration settings, as well as more social learning areas. Spaces and furniture solutions have been designed to be flexible and adaptable to suit changing needs. All are IT resourced, with effective power provision.

Quality and sustainability

High aspirations for sustainability include a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating. High-quality, durable materials have been chosen throughout and transparency and daylight characterise the new building. 

Internally, creamy coloured concrete is left exposed, its mass contributing to the thermal stability of the building. Embedded pipes set within the concrete slabs connect to boreholes beneath the basement to provide free cooling as part of the low-energy, mixed-mode strategy. Façade materials were chosen to complement the heritage context.

Feautured in CQ Summer 2019 (pg 4)