What the new Milton Keynes University might look like

SOURCE: Malcom Reading
A design by Team Co:MK:U, one of the five finalists in the MK:U design competition.

By U2B Staff 

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The campus concept designs proposed by the five finalists in the MK:U International Design Competition are now available online for public viewing.

The teams are vying for their place on an integrated multidisciplinary team to design MK:U, a “new model” university to be built in Milton Keynes, the UK’s fastest growing city.

The competing teams include a number of collaborations between local and international design firms, including one between OMA, Carmody Groarke and Nicholas Hare Architects; another with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Danish stars Henning Larsen; Hawkins\Brown with Dutch architect and planner KCAP; and WilkinsonEyre with AECOM and Delft-based Mecanoo.

The teams each received £30,000 to draw up their campus visions for the first phase of the project, which is estimated to cover some 61,120 sqm and 40 percent of the total site. The first phase, due to open by 2023, comes with a budget of £188 million. 


The concept designs were revealed Friday and were put on display at the Middleton Hall in Milton Keynes until July 7. It is also available on the competition website, run by competition organisers Malcolm Reading Consultants.

The following are the five finalist teams and images of their proposed concepts, sourced from the website. Further detail on the designs, including concept descriptors, videos and images, can be found via the hyperlinks below.

#1 Co:MK:U— WilkinsonEyre and AECOM with Spaces that Work, Mecanoo, dRMM, Publica, Contemporary Art Society and Tricon

#2 Hawkins\Brown with KCAP, Grant Associates, BuroHappold Engineering and Sam Jacob Studio

#3 Hopkins Architects with 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

#4 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

#5 OMA with BuroHappold Engineering, Planit-IE, Nicholas Hare Architects, Carmody Groarke, Galmstrup, Approved Consultant Services and Russell Partnership

Commenting on the project, MK:U programme director and Cranfield University pro-vice-chancellor Lynette Ryals said the university stands to become an economic asset, not just to Milton Keynes but to the whole of the UK. 

“Seeing the designs by our five shortlisted teams for the first time is a major boost for the project and for the city,” she said.

“MK:U will be something that Milton Keynes should be really proud of; it’s a hugely ambitious and forward-thinking plan.

“We want every Milton Keynes resident to visit the competition website and give us their views on the designs.”

Backed by Cranfield University and the Milton Keynes Council, MK:U is a flagship project of the MK Futures 2050 programme, which anticipates that the area’s population will more than double to hit half a million by 2050.

The city, located strategically at the centre of the Oxford-to-Cambridge arc, is the largest city in the UK that doesn’t have its own university. The MK:U project aims to change that.

But rather than creating another cookie-cutter institution that functions in much the same way as any other, the MK:U will “go beyond the scope of the traditional university” to meet urgent technological and societal challenges.

It will focus on digital economy skills and practical, business-focused courses, and offer fast-track two-year degrees, a strategic move to build a talent pipeline primed for the future. This is timely, given the UK is said to be creating more US$1 billion technology companies than any other country, apart from the US and China.

MK:U will also use its own University Quarter as a ​‘living lab’ to test out new concepts and ideas, and inspire Milton Keynes’ students and citizens. The project recently received a £30 million boost from Santander, described as “one of the biggest corporate gifts to British higher education” in recent years. 


The university will be delivered in three phases over 15 years, accommodating 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 undergraduates respectively. Phase one, the subject of the international design competition, focuses on an overall masterplan for the site as well as designs for the first buildings. 

“These concept designs all complement Milton Keynes’ emblematic urban grid pattern but offer five different identities for MK:U,” said competition director Malcolm Reading.

“They respond to the context, environment and history of Milton Keynes with diverse strategies to give the new university powerful civic presence, to connect it to the wider city, and mix green public space with academic and student residential space.”

The judging panel is being 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 Architects.

The winner of the competition will be announced in the summer.