MK:U is a unique initiative, a new model university in the UK’s fastest-growing city, that will enable people of all ages and backgrounds to develop new skills, learn about emerging technologies and business, and to choose a future within the UK’s expanding knowledge economy.

This flagship project is strategically positioned, just half-an-hour by train from London and in the centre of Milton Keynes (MK), a Smart City’ at the centre of the Oxford to Cambridge innovation arc.

The city’s success has highlighted the need for an undergraduate university – MK is the largest urban area in the UK without its own university – and to resolve this, Milton Keynes Council (MKC) and Cranfield University, a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management, joined forces last year.

Their intention is to completely transform thinking about higher education and create a new exemplar that is open, accessible, dynamic, technologically-focused, innovative, diverse, business-oriented and entrepreneurial.

Through its ambitious curriculum focused on digital economy skills, MK:U will honour the innovative spirit of nearby Bletchley Park, the birthplace of modern computing, and further MK’s pioneering work in Big Data’, transport innovation and urban design.

And MK:U will go beyond the scope of a traditional university, using its own University Quarter and the wider city as a living lab’ to test out new concepts and ideas, and inspire MK’s students and citizens.

Famously different by design’ and beloved by architects as the most successful and original of the late 60s New Towns, MK is today home to highly-innovative and technologically-adept businesses, as well as having close links with global industrial partners.

With a prominent location – the last major undeveloped site in the city centre – this project has huge potential. A University Quarter, integrated with the city centre and running 24/7, will reenergise and animate the city’s public spaces, bringing a much-needed buzz and a boost to the local economy, especially at night-time.

MK:U is planned to be delivered in three phases over fifteen years, accommodating 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 undergraduates respectively. Phase one, the subject of this international design competition, focuses on an overall masterplan for the site as well as designs for the first buildings. This phase has a construction budget of approximately £188M, covers 61,120 sqm (circa 40 per cent of the total site) and is due to open in 2023.

At the first stage, competitors were asked to read the Search Statement, fill out the online form and upload documents detailing their company information, proposed team composition and relevant experience.

The first stage of the competition attracted 53 team submissions comprising 257 individual firms from across the globe.

From these submissions, five teams were shortlisted in March 2019 and asked to create masterplan and concept designs for the new university. These designs can be viewed here.

The jury met in July 2019 to interview the shortlist and selected the team led by Hopkins Architects as the winner of the competition.

The design competition was managed by independent specialists Malcolm Reading Consultants on behalf of Milton Keynes Council, working in consultation with Cranfield University and the landowners Milton Keynes Development Partnership.