Cranfield University and Milton Keynes Council have begun their search for a landmark design for MK:U, a new model university planned for the heart of Milton Keynes.

An international architectural competition launches today, 30 January, and will be judged by a panel of innovative public figures involved in architecture and urban planning.

The winning design is expected to deliver an ‘outstanding synthesis of architecture, landscaping, public realm and student experience, setting a new standard in university architecture and a creating a memorable destination for citizens’.

Initially, entrants are asked to submit an expression of interest at, alongside key company details. Five shortlisted entrants will then be announced in spring ahead of a public exhibition of the competing concepts, held in central Milton Keynes. The winning design will be revealed in summer 2019.

Cranfield University is the educational lead for MK:U, which is being developed with a distinctive undergraduate curriculum including digital, cyber, autonomy, robotics and artificial intelligence. In each of the university’s key areas of focus, there will be a lead business partner which will help to prepare students for the future world of work. It is planned that around 15,000 students will eventually study at MK:U with the first 5,000 arriving in 2023.

The university is a key part of achieving Milton Keynes’ long-term vision, which envisages the city growing to 500,000 people by 2050 and being recognised as a test bed for ‘smart city thinking’ at the heart of the nationally important Cambridge – MK – Oxford growth arc.

The MK:U campus will be built on a 10.1 hectare block of land, minutes from the central rail station and main shopping district, and is the only major undeveloped block remaining in central Milton Keynes. The built area will be approximately 61,000sqm.

Architects have been asked to consider MK’s distinct character and heritage, as well as creating an iconic new building that meets the university’s aspirations as a ‘digital playground’ with pioneering ways of teaching. The design must also meet the highest sustainability standards, suitable for a city with a long-established reputation for innovation, including the world’s first solar powered house, the first in the UK to adopt energy standards in buildings, and recent advances in electric car networks and autonomous driving systems.

The university quarter is planned to be open and welcoming to local people who aren’t enrolled as students. As well as teaching spaces and accommodation, it will include a forum for events and exhibitions, a café, an innovation centre and sports facilities.

Professor Lynette Ryals OBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Cranfield University, and Chief Executive, MK:U Limited, said: “The competition will set out a fascinating design challenge − to create a world-class university that offers a new model of education at the heart of the fast-growing, high-tech Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford innovation arc.

“We will be searching for outstanding multi-disciplinary teams that connect with our vision and relate to Milton Keynes – a smart city with an entrepreneurial mindset and a great place to try out new technologies and future ways of living.”

Councillor Pete Marland, Leader of Milton Keynes Council, said: “MK:U will have an exceptionally strong relationship to MK because the city’s long-term future – and ambition to grow to half a million residents by 2050 – depends on retaining and attracting talent.

“MK:U is the city’s most important project in a generation and the council is fully committed to making it a great success. As well as learning and skills benefits, we are looking to MK:U to bring increased vibrancy to the city centre and to work closely with local employers to help grow their businesses”.

The competition is being run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, whose recent work includes competitions for University College Dublin and the Royal College of Art.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.