UCL campus overhaul

University College London (UCL) receives planning approval for £9.3m Wilkins Terrace and Refectory redevelopment

The project aims to transform a Refectory and an underused service yard within their Bloomsbury campus into a vibrant social space and courtyard, restoring the historic splendour of the heart of the university and improving campus connectivity.

The changes bring together Burwell Deakins Architects’ remodelling of the Wilkins Lower Refectory and Levitt Bernstein’s transformation of the adjacent yard into a new contemporary courtyard and terrace behind the historic Portico that UCL is synonymous with.

The redevelopment will provide a refectory offering a variety of dining and café space, connected to the new Wilkins Terrace, formed at the level above, to accommodate a range of formal and informal uses and providing a new east west link across the UCL campus. The scheme forms part of UCL’s masterplan to enhance student experience by improving the quality and variety of facilities and accessibility around the campus.

Andrew Grainger, Director of UCL Estates, said:“The Wilkins Terrace and Lower Refectory projects will seamlessly join the central campus together, allowing for an essential new link through to Gordon Street.  The area to be developed into the Wilkins Terrace is an underused courtyard known as the ‘Physics Yard’ in the centre of our historic campus.  This project will transform the space into a stunning social events and amenities space and a huge enhancement of the Public Realm within the UCL campus. The existing refectory will be completely transformed to create a contemporary facility in its fine historical context while improving infrastructure, increasing amenities and improving usability.” 

Enabling works have already begun to allow project construction to start promptly in December 2014.

The new terrace and facade do not directly touch the Grade 1 listed Wilkins or Physics Buildings, with a light bridge connection at the Bloomsbury Theatre and 1960’s Donaldson extension. Wilkins Terrace forms a largely free-standing object within the space with its own architectural identity inspired by the materials and geometries of its context.

The upper courtyard will be an active social space, suitable for hosting a variety of different events. It will become home to student fairs, open-air exhibitions, fashion shows and performances. Even when it is not being used for events, the space will provide UCL staff, students and visitors with functional space.

The terrace deck, fourth façade, fixed seating bays and new edge walls are clad in Portland stone, of three types of textures ranging from a medium compacted Jordans Whitbed to a fine grain Grove Whitbed, which displays a unique fossil structure.

Strong planting design will include UK native fruit producing trees and a selection of plants chosen for their scent, blooms and culinary uses. It is intended that visitors to the Terrace will be able to pick fruit to eat while sitting in the courtyard and herbs that can be taken home. By selecting native species of plants and trees, nesting opportunities, shelter and nectar is made available to domestic wildlife in an otherwise densely built-up part of the city.

“The location of UCL’s urban campus is enviable, but it should not mean that it has to be estranged from nature and plants,” says Brighid Lowe, a lecturer at UCL’s Slade School of Art which is adjacent to the terrace. “The planting scheme of the Wilkins terrace is an inspiring and urgent precedent: rather than a few token planters, it is a scheme that is completely integrated within the design. The plants will provide an evolving drama for this new space – and will also help in the rescue of our threatened bee population.”

Designed by Burwell Deakins Architects, the Lower Refectory will occupy a key location between the new Wilkins Terrace and the Japanese Garden. Within the total reorganisation of the space, the Refectory Dining Hall will be relocated to the heart of the Wilkins Building to inhabit the original double height arched space.

The existing ceiling and interstitial services gantry above, will be removed allowing the arches and clerestory windows to be exposed again, reestablishing double height daylighting to both sides of the dining hall, providing UCL with a grand collegiate dining facility within the Central Bloomsbury Campus.

William Deakins, Project Director at Burwell Deakins Architects said:“We are delighted to redevelop the current spatial characteristics of the facility and its presence on campus to provide a new model for the Wilkins Lower Refectory whilst reorganising the space to exploit the historic splendour of the Wilkins Building that has been concealed by past adaptations.”

The Wilkins Building took its name from UCL’s first architect William Wilkins, who envisaged the19th-century visitor entering the university through the octagonal hall situated at the top of the portico steps. Wilkins also designed the National Gallery and buildings for several Cambridge colleges.




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