Building a 21st-century estate

Modern shared working space in the Beechcroft

nick brown

Dr Nick Brown

Over the last few months, the working group I chair has been busy creating a new Estate Strategy that will help us make sure the University’s facilities are fit for the academic, financial and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

We’re aiming for principles to guide development of the estate for decades to come, rather than specific goals that will be obsolete in a few years. The strategy needs to support the current Strategic Plan, but also give us flexibility to respond to whatever comes next. We face the challenge of protecting our extraordinary historic buildings while making real progress towards Net Zero Carbon emissions.

You might ask, why should I care about a new Estate Strategy? Well, the outcome could have a big impact on your working environment for years to come.

Dr Nick Brown: Principal of Linacre College and chair of both the Buildings and Estates Sub-Committee (BESC) and Estate Strategy Working Group

We have created excellent new buildings but we haven’t invested enough in maintaining the existing estate. This has led to buildings being neglected, and gradually deteriorating until eventually we must spend huge amounts just to bring them back up to standard. Take the Thom building – it serves a clear academic purpose and the departments within value and need its facilities, but it has reached a critical point when massive investment is needed just to keep it structurally sound.  

Artistic image of the new Life and Mind Building

Building our future: artistic image of the new Life and Mind Building

Among our greatest challenges is balancing the need to upgrade the current stock and mitigate risks against demands to build new facilities. When should we make-do and mend, and when should we demolish and rebuild? New build comes at a high environmental cost, but the poorest quality buildings may never really be satisfactory or sustainable. 

Both space and capital are in short supply. Getting our guiding principles right will help us make better decisions and invest our limited resources effectively. Right now we can’t afford, and don’t have space, for everything we’d like to build. There are tough decisions ahead and we need your help making them. 

One thing we have all learned is that if we take too long to make up our minds, our choices evaporate. A clear strategy will help us move swiftly and effectively. 

Artistic image of Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities

Building our future: artistic image of Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities

We need our buildings to be well suited to their purpose. I’ve seen 21st-century research taking place in cramped, badly lit, 19th-century basements and research students working in corridors. The estate should support our academic mission, and its condition and quality must be appropriate to one of the world’s leading universities. Otherwise, we will struggle to attract the talented staff and students we need to retain our global position.

I’d like to encourage everyone to take the opportunity to share their views and ideas. We need your input to make sure that strategy reflects the real challenges and opportunities we face.


A good working environment should also be comfortable, clean, healthy, accessible, safe and congenial. Right now we’re working on major improvements to the depressing and run-down state of the Science Area, but we need your help setting standards for workplaces across the University. 

Sustainability is another major focus. Our new Environmental Sustainability Strategy commits us to achieving net carbon neutrality and a net gain in biodiversity from our activities by 2035, and we won’t do this by carrying on as before. We need to ensure all new buildings are designed as sustainably as possible, while also controlling the growth of the estate more carefully. We will make sustainability a vital part of every major planning decision.

Finally, we need to think expansively about the longer-term implications of new ways of working and collaborating. We have more scope to adopt new technologies and opportunities to use space more efficiently. The estate may have to work a lot harder for us to accommodate all our needs in future, and we may need to learn to share facilities more than ever before.

We will consult formally in due course but welcome your observations now.  Please email with your thoughts on the key issues. We aim to have the whole process completed during Hilary Term 2022.

I’d like to encourage everyone to take the opportunity to share their views and ideas. We need your input to make sure that strategy reflects the real challenges and opportunities we face.