University College London

I recently visited my colleague Jay Woodhouse (Facilities and Projects Manager, UCL Library Services) at University College London. The aim was to learn about how Jay and his team manage their Library facilities and to learn about some of the future projects they’re working on.

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I always enjoy working in London, particularly in the bustling area around Euston, which is home to major train stations, universities, The British Library, The British Museum, Wellcome Trust and much more. I only had a day in London and I was determined to absorb as much information as possible. Arriving at 8.20am, I had time to have a walk around the area and spent a while looking at the brutalist architecture of the grade 1 listed British Library. I noticed that at the rear of the building, they had installed vertical gardens, which is something I do not see much of but wished I saw more.

It was nearing the time I had to meet Jay and so I started to walk through the dense UCL campus. There is major investment taking place across the University’s estate, of which the myriad of temporary study spaces, construction sites and hoardings made an already complex route even more challenging. However, this is said in a positive light as I got to walk under, through and around a number of buildings, absorbing the range of differing University spaces. The wayfinding signs were a good design and helped me greatly.

I met Jay at the Wilkins Building which houses the university’s main library. It is an architectural masterpiece. Construction began in 1827 but was technically only completed 158 years later in 1985. The building suffered from bomb damage in World War II and the cracks in the structure can still be seen. The central octagon houses a collection of John Flaxman sculptures and is a real showpiece. This area of the building is a true blend of academic study space and museum, a theme which continues to be reflected throughout the rest of the campus to great effect.

The great secret of being involved with facilities is that you are able to access a world rarely seen by others. Nooks and crannies are explored, unique passageways and staircases scaled and during my visit to UCL, impressive views and entrances opened up for the first time in decades. It was at this point when Jay explained a current project to restore, modernise and reopen the Wilkins building’s original entrance.

From Jay’s office, we looked down on the foundations being laid and piles driven for the new Student Centre, due to open in 2019. The facility will be managed by the Library and will offer 1000 mixed type study spaces, contemplation rooms, a range of student services and a café. We then went on a tour of the various library spaces across the campus (of which there are 17 libraries, an off-site store and 5 other learning spaces), our first stop being the Science Library and Learning Lab. The space had originally provided 500 study spaces, but over time better use and rationalisation of study spaces had allowed this number to increase to 1000. At the time of my visit the entrance area was being prepared for redevelopment, with large areas of the space cordoned off.

The recently created ‘Research Grid’ focused on supporting all postgraduate students and was the outcome of repurposing previous staff offices. Offering a range of study spaces, collaborative areas, kitchenettes with hot drinks machines, a Skype booth and a seminar space, the Research Grid had been a huge success.

 

Passing The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Birkbeck University and the Institute of Education buildings, we arrived at Senate House, a multi-occupancy building and a structure of immense magnitude and magnificent Art Deco design. Originally the administration facility of The University of London, the building now contains The Senate House Library, parts of Birkbeck University and is also being redeveloped to house SOAS. Senate House is often featured in TV programmes and films. UCL offers a library-run study hub for all its students in the building. The former administration offices have been transformed into study spaces. Corridors provide single study seats in front of windows offering fantastic views. The largest study space is a beautiful room, offering a taste of historic art deco splendour but with the practicalities of modern task lighting and ergonomic chairs.

Our last visit was to yet another magnificent building, The Cruciform Building. Designed by arguably one of our England’s most celebrated Victorian architects Alfred Waterhouse (who you may know also designed Manchester Town Hall and The Natural History Museum), the building was home to University College Hospital before closure in 1995 and subsequent purchase by UCL. Home of The Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research and UCL Medical School’s teaching facility, The Medical Sciences Library is a compact yet functional space. With solid walls replaced by transparent display cabinets from the Library’s (and presumably Museum) collections, these exhibitions change on a regular basis. The PC clusters have flexible walls to enclose smaller teaching spaces and provide larger rooms as and when required. The dedicated teaching rooms double as general use study spaces outside of core curriculum periods, with doors and partitions opened to create larger spaces for students when needed – a great example of flexibility.

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Throughout the day, Jay shared his boundless knowledge of the University’s estate with unparalleled enthusiasm. I was lucky to have learnt a wealth of information about the university’s campus and architecture such as the converted carriage house which now provides The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. At the end of my visit, I returned to Jay’s office to collect my bag and met members of his facilities and projects team. There was a genuine sense of collectiveness and enthusiasm towards the team’s purpose. This is something that is common across facilities management, and which I share too.

Mike Kelly (Library Space Manager, The University of Manchester Library)

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