In a unique fusion of academic and community interests, Birkbeck University of London and the University of East London (UEL) realised they had a common need for more space and agreed to work together to create a major new university hub in the heart of east London. Their vision was to meet the growing aspirations of local people with a building that would be an accessible and inspiring place, offering enhanced employment possibilities through better academic qualifications.
A key driver of the brief was the building’s extended daily use; the building was designed to serve UEL students during the day and Birkbeck’s night classes, plus the activities of their partnering organisations for up to 12 hours a day. The bold decision to amalgamate multiple uses within a single shared facility was not only driven by the synergies between each institution’s operating hours, nor was it simply a question of financial savings through cohabiting a single building, both universities were also aware of the positive academic benefits of cross-fertilisation between subjects and departments.
The two universities envisaged a spatially and educationally versatile building that would attract a broad mix of students and serve a wide range of educational and artistic uses that required facilities ranging from a Harvard-style lecture theatre to a large scaled rehearsal space. The brief required physically robust architecture that was highly efficient in energy use, maintenance and overall operating costs. It was to be an architecturally striking building, confident of its shared purpose and with distinct place-making qualities.