Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park [credit London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC)].

London's Olympicopolis 'glittering jewel'

As we mark the ten-year anniversary of London’s successful bid for the Olympic Games, amid talk of missed sporting legacy and broken promises, rises a ‘glittering jewel’ at the Olympic Park.

It is ten years since London was awarded the Olympic Games in 2005 amid much excitement and celebration, but with the anniversary comes mixed comments in the media about missed legacy opportunities and broken promises.

However, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. As former Labour front bencher Dame Tessa Jowell was making her comments to the Guardian about a squandered sports legacy that has left grassroots sport in the UK “back to where it was in 2002”, plans are gathering pace for an innovative new campus for University College London (UCL) at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

LDA Design has just been appointed by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) to develop a masterplan for the new 125,000m2 campus to be located south of Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. To be called UCL East, the new campus forms part of a wider education and cultural quarter at the Olympic Park and will realise UCL’s vision for a new open, connected campus providing a unique environment for university researchers and educators to work side-by-side with researchers and innovators from other organisations.

Olympicopolis

Whilst the pledge to inspire a generation of children to participate in sport has hit a stumbling block, Dame Tessa acknowledged that the regeneration of east London has been a success, an Olympic legacy promise which is now reaching far into the wider community, creating opportunities for local people and driving innovation and growth in London.

The UCL East campus is the latest in a string of projects that will transform the Olympic Park and is a key element of the ‘Olympicopolis’ vision for a cultural and education district involving UCL, together with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the University of the Arts London and Sadler’s Wells. Taking its inspiration from the achievements of Prince Albert, who used the proceeds of the 1851 Great Exhibition to create ‘Albertopolis’ – the 86-acre site around Exhibition Road in South Kensington that is today considered one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific, educational, artistic and cultural hubs – the new quarter aims to be a dynamic new hub for 21st-century London, attracting prestigious institutions and businesses to the site to foster collaboration and innovation.

Following the government’s announcement of £141 million in support of the project, it now falls to the LLDC as the contracting authority to deliver the plans, secure planning permission and deliver the academic elements to shell and core. Formed in April 2012, the LLDC’s purpose is to use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the London 2012 Games and the creation of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to develop this dynamic new heart for east London. It is charged with delivering one of the most important Olympic legacy promises made in the original London 2012 Games bid: the pledge to uphold the physical legacy of the Games, the long-term planning, development, management and maintenance of the park and its impact on the surrounding area after the London 2012 Games.

Radical new model

The first phase of UCL East is expected to comprise a series of knowledge centres, bringing together cross-disciplinary expertise from engineering, design, the arts and humanities, culture and business, with the first major construction phase establishing an operational presence on the park by autumn 2018. Initial modelling suggests that when phase one is fully operational, there will be approximately 2,500 students, 200 academic staff, 200 researchers and 100 other staff on site, in addition to other users, visitors and onsite residents.

Envisaged as a radical new model of how a university campus can be embedded in the local community, this first phase of the site, totalling some 50,000m2, will bring together expertise across disciplines, forging new connections between researchers and business, and fostering innovation, new insights and new industries.

As UCL Vice-Provost (Enterprise) Professor Stephen Caddick explains, “UCL East represents the largest-ever single expansion of UCL since the university was founded nearly 200 years ago. Our new site will be a beacon of how universities should work in decades to come - outward-looking, connected to the local community and providing facilities to businesses to work on site to bring new discoveries and inventions out of the lab and into the marketplace.

“London can be the global capital for higher education and we see this development… as being an important step in that direction,” he adds.

Experimental engineering

In recognition of the acute skills shortage in engineering, a new facility is to be created at UCL East to deliver an entirely new approach to experiential learning in engineering, alongside new facilities for prototyping and manufacturing which will include a new UCL Centre for Engineering Education and UCL Make Space East.

These new facilities will provide a space for large-scale fabrication and through a programme of apprenticeships, hopefully involving the local community, the next generation of skilled technicians will be created. Alongside the opportunities for academic programmes associated with the Centre for Engineering Education at undergraduate and master's level, it is hoped that the unique facilities on offer will lead to new research partnership opportunities and further doctoral research programmes, as well as the cutting-edge prototyping facilities providing opportunities for industry and business.

Design and heritage

UCL Generator - Making Futures – is to be UCL’s first dedicated School of Design, a space focused on participatory design and heritage practices involving research-based work and learning. Alongside collaborative research, new academic programmes and short courses, it is anticipated that this centre will include space for public engagement and participation, such as a showcase for a new Museum of the Future, a library and a cultural hub. Specific foci are to include smart futures and energy, heritage for the future, housing experimentation and urban regeneration, and film production.

Innovation

UCL FutureNow will be a new centre for open innovation focusing on the intersection between humans, their social interactions and technology. The centre will provide a unique environment for collaboration, education, research, innovation and product development along themed topic areas such as biological devices, medical technologies, and wearable technologies, among others.

Cool neighbourhood

UCL Living will comprise living space for undergraduates, postgraduate research students, as well as early-career academic staff, with the aim of providing a way of innovating new ways of living in 21st-century knowledge economies. As if the academic facilities weren’t enough, the opportunity to live in a seriously cool living space provides an additional incentive for attracting talent from around the world.

UCL and the V&A

Detailed plans are underway with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) for the creation of a new interdisciplinary centre in teaching and research, under the rubric of materials and making. The collaboration will focus on the dual tracks of art and design (making and fabricating a material world) and heritage (managing our material culture from the past for the future). The new centre will draw together experts from art history, history, history of design, architecture, archaeology, anthropology, engineering and material science, fine art, museum and heritage studies alongside exhibition, curation, conservation and collections-based practices.

Turning vision into reality

The vision for UCL East is for it to become a physical manifestation of the university’s commitment to collaboration between disciplines in research, education and innovation and to a sharing of knowledge for the wider society and economy.

There is still much to do - indeed, all of it to do! The stakeholders involved firmly believe that Olympicopolis offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for UCL to be at the heart of the shared development of a vibrant, diverse and accessible new place in London, linking living, working, socialising and learning.

Activities will be carried out at UCL East that cannot be undertaken anywhere else, attracting people from all over the world, bringing with them their talent and energy - and their money, too! It is a unique project and will provide UCL with the opportunity to recast its relationship with London, to fulfil its promise as London’s global university and play its part in realising the Olympic legacy.

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