A place where great
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When LDA Design developed the masterplan for UCL East in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park the vision was to create a new campus model. So, how is the masterplan working out? 

“When we conceived the idea of the Fluid Zone, we saw it as being about knowledge, friendship and belonging and also about the fluid nature of the Park and the timelessness of the River Lea running through the heart of UCL East.”

Bernie Foulkes, Director, LDA Design

Since the outset, University College London (UCL) has been a pioneer. Its decision to extend east to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park continues in this spirit, with a masterplan by LDA Design that provides a new campus model, one which welcomes in the wider community. 

By 2025, UCL East will have around 4,000 students and 700 staff. The new campus, jointly commissioned by UCL and LLDC, is the biggest expansion in the university’s history, almost doubling UCL’s size. Bringing together eight faculties, there is a focus on cross-disciplinary courses, enabling artists, architects, engineers and computer scientists to work more easily together. Academic centres based here include the Institute of Making, Advanced Propulsion, Manufacturing Futures Lab, Experiential Learning and Research Hub, Global Business School for Health, Institute of Finance and Technology, Robotics and Autonomous Systems and Culture Lab.

Two key buildings are now open: One Pool Street, a self-catering halls of residence by architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, and Marshgate, a £20 million centre of research and learning designed by Stanton Williams. The buildings face each other across the River Lea, connected by two bridges and ensconced in the Park, one of Europe’s most successful new landscapes. 

The seven-year journey from concept to masterplan through to first phase completion has been informed by UCL’s vision and values. At the beginning, the team had to wrestle with some fundamental questions about what kind of campus it should be. 

UCL East could never be a conventional piece of city. It has a river on two sides and a railway line along the southern perimeter. An important pedestrian route from Pudding Mill Lane DLR station needed to be somehow threaded through the middle of the campus, in as direct way as possible, and then there is the towering presence across the road of the Arcelor Mittal Orbit. 

The campus sits within the Park, and this relationship is compromised only when Thornton Street, which forms the long northern perimeter with the rest of the park, is thronged with football fans on their way to the London Stadium. 

UCL’s academic vision and its values somehow had to find their expression. LDA Design set about establishing connections between the buildings, the public realm and the surroundings, with special consideration of how the campus should address and embrace the QEOP. The River Lea and its canals are the defining feature of the Park and the masterplan needed to resolve the bridging of the river and connect up the riverside landscape. 


LDA Design’s illustrative masterplan reflects the outline planning application, submitted in 2017 and granted planning in March 2018. The application included parameter plans which determined the scale and quantum of development. The masterplan captures the aspiration of UCL and LLDC to create a genuinely inclusive university campus set within Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  

The campus is part of East Bank, the Park’s new and distinctive culture and education district. Sitting high above the river is the newly opened London College of Fashion (part of University of Arts London), soon to be joined by the V&A, BBC and Sadler’s Wells. The masterplan needed to address the composition of UCL East and its massing and profile over time when viewed as part of East Bank. Careful consideration was given in design coding to building height and performance.  

There were opportunities to seize within the masterplan, including eliminating the usual ‘town and gown’ effect of elite academic institutions. What if the Park, democratic by its very nature and design, could visibly “flow” through the campus, without either becoming fragmented or forcing buildings apart? 

Exciting - an emerging Stratford Waterfront

Open workshops mean the public can see innovation and invention at first hand, One Pool Street

“By creating a new kind of place, where buildings and spaces share the same sense of openness and accessibility and where people can mix easily, great things can happen for the university and for the local community.”

Bernie Foulkes, Director, LDA Design

So UCL’s academic and social vision for UCL East is built upon the idea of the Fluid Zone. 

This is very different from most university campuses and an idea in keeping with UCL’s non-conformist origins. Space flows in at ground and first floor level and sweeps upwards. 

That idea of flow was, crucially, about contact and encounter. Encouraging the general public towards and through the buildings creates spaces that are busy and sociable and provides the setting for cultural and educational exchange.  

The spatial concepts for the Fluid Zone are clearly visible in both new buildings. There is a café at Marshgate’s ground level and some of its first floor is open to the public. Active frontages connect the buildings to their surroundings and ignite public curiosity through showcasing groundbreaking research and educational work. 

One Pool Street is infused with light and terrific views of the Park. It has a café too, as well as a shop for students and local people. An accessible central atrium leads to exhibition space visible from the street. Student mental health was front of mind in its design and the accommodation, which the students are encouraged to access via busy communal areas, is designed to be convivial. 

The spaces on the higher floors within both buildings are peaceful and contemplative. The dramatic silhouette of the London skyline is a reminder – if you needed it – that you are in one of the world’s great academic institutions in one of the world’s greatest cities. 

There is no doubt that buildings and spaces designed deliberately for connection do challenge people to bring their most open selves to work.

So how is the masterplan working out? 

“There is no doubt that buildings and spaces designed deliberately for connection do challenge people to bring their most open selves to work, in lots of ways.” Bernie reflects. “People are used to working behind blinds, but we are sure that in time people will become more comfortable about that kind of literal transparency. You only have to walk through any makers’ yard, or boatyard, to see how much people enjoy getting a glimpse of others working.”

“The main plaza at the heart of the campus is the place where space, people and Park converge,” Bernie concludes, “so we look forward to seeing how comfort and enclosure there will develop as future phases are built out. 

“By creating a new kind of place, where buildings and spaces share the same sense of openness and accessibility and where people can mix easily, great things can happen for the university and for the local community.” 

All images credited to Neil Speakman / Studio Maple / LDA Design

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