Utrecht Science Park Spatial Planning Vision for 2040

The three square-kilometre grounds of Utrecht Science Park is home to a university, a university of applied sciences, several hospitals and research institutes and dozens of individual companies that apply knowledge and research. That is a unique combination. As an educational institution and owner of the majority of the land at Utrecht Science Park, Utrecht University has a duty to optimally develop the potential of the Netherlands’ largest science park over the coming decades. So it is high time to draw up a vision for Utrecht Science Park’s area, buildings and energy supplies. In this article, we will delve into Utrecht University’s vision of the Utrecht Science Park area for the period until 2040.

The area as it stands today

Utrecht Science Park welcomes more than 70,000 people every day; around the population of are a medium-sized city. And it is a busy area. It takes an unnecessarily long time to make your way through rush hour traffic. Some of the many buildings are showing their age, and nowhere near what one could call ‘sustainable’. We are bursting at the seams, and there is almost no space available for the innovative companies that want to locate here. The waiting list for on-campus student housing is long, and it sometimes feels like a cold, windy, uninviting place to be - especially at night. But it is also a beautiful, 300-hectare location in the middle of the Netherlands, with stately homes and forts as neighbours and a rich history. So what should we do with it?

Kaart van het Utrecht Science Park met de ontwikkelrichtingen en -mogelijkheden.

Where do we come from?

First, let’s take a trip back in time. In the 1960s, the university was given a new plot of land outside the city. When the first faculties moved out of the city centre, the Uithof campus was a spacious area with wide boulevards. The buildings, including the Veterinary Medicine faculty, were scattered across the landscape. In the 1990s, the Padualaan-Heidelberglaan axis developed into something resembling a ‘main street’; a structure of building clusters amid the green space. Hospitals and the university of applied sciences moved into these clusters. The first student housing was built around the year 2000, and Utrecht University of Applied Science continued expanding and the area developed a need for supporting hospitality industry and catering facilities. Over the past 20 years, the many knowledge institutions spun off new companies that also located in the science park. Those companies have grown, and wish to expand. The synergy between the research institutions and entrepreneurs has led more and more start-ups to seek housing at Utrecht Science Park, making it an attractive location for outside businesses as well.

Time for contemplation and an action plan

Utrecht Science Park is an important area of the university, but also for the City and Province of Utrecht. So the university, UMC Utrecht, the Utrecht Science Park Foundation and several other users, residents and neighbours have come together to think about the future. Their dialogue has resulted in the Utrecht Science Park Spatial Planning Vision 2040, which was approved by the Utrecht City Council in September 2022. The ideas formulated in the spatial planning vision will help us make choices about the area, and provide guidance in organising the area over the long term.

As a university, we also feel it is our obligation to apply our guiding principles at Utrecht Science Park to contribute to solutions for the urgent issues facing the Netherlands and the world. We aim to be a learning campus, with an open attitude and perspective. To achieve that, we have identified seven strategic themes, and used those themes to formulate nine tactical objectives.

No limits - within limits

Our creativity is boundless, but there are limits to our resources. So we will have to find smart and creative ways to utilise the space, funding and people we have at our disposal. Research and education are always the highest priority; in the layout of the area, but also with regard to the eventual users. For example: we will not simply demolish buildings and build new ones. Wherever possible, we will also sustainably redevelop existing properties. The number of students is increasing, so it’s easy to think that we’ll need more space for them. But the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that we can use our existing classrooms much more efficiently with hybrid teaching and smart scheduling. And if we can also expand upwards, we will have more space available for greenery, nature and recreation, so we will be able to preserve the landscape - or even improve it. To paraphrase Dutch poet Jules Deelder: within the limits of the possible, the possibilities are limitless.

Come see for yourself

An important element of the spatial planning vision is the creation of a central heart for Utrecht Science Park. The Heidelberglaan serves as the main axis for this vision. Around it lie some of the area’s characteristic buildings, such as the Educatorium, the Van Unnik building and the Kruyt building. The idea is to make these buildings more visible, and to demolish some of the older buildings to make room for new plazas. These plazas will each have their own function and personality, but will always invite people to come together and spend time there. This will give the public spaces around the central boulevard a more connective role as a place for people to meet one another. Another goal is to connect the various locations on campus with greenery. At the same time, we wish to make the Botanic Gardens, one of the hidden gems of Utrecht Science Park, more accessible and visible. That involves breaking ground to move and redesign the Evolution Garden. The design is based on fractals: repeating mathematical patterns that are common throughout nature. We have some big plans for the gardens, and yes, that will mean lorries carrying loads of soil back and forth, and therefore muddy roads for a few years. But eventually the work will be complete, and we will be able to enjoy the beautiful fractals for many years to come. The new Botanic Gardens should be complete and in full bloom by 2024. The move will make room for a beautiful new park at the front of the garden, where people can stroll, picnic, work out or simply relax.

Temporary city beach

Such a massive transition over a period of more than 15 years will raise a lot of dust, both figuratively and literally. It will cause obstructions, traffic detours and noise. We are already experiencing that in some locations at the science park. For example, the lower sections of the iconic Willem C. van Unnik building were demolished in 2021. It looks strange today, but it also offers new opportunities, such as a temporary city beach or a space for public art exhibits. Together with our students, we will spend the next few months deliberating on the best temporary use of the space. And more informal outdoor sports facilities will be realised in preparation for a structural expansion of Sportcentrum Olympos.

Daily life goes on during the renovations

For years, students have been asking for a place where they can come together for informal encounters. Now, a space has been realised for coffee and drinks in a new building with a familiar name in front of the Koningsberger building: de Vagant. And we will continue brainstorming for a definitive location for a student ‘living room’ over the next few years. And speaking of rooms: in 2023, the High Five complex will be built in the meadow between the student flats De Johanna and De Cambridgelaan. The complex will house 721 studio apartments and 200 group apartments, with shared kitchens and living rooms. High Five will also feature space for students to come together, study, do their laundry or relax in an outdoor courtyard. The plans even include a take-away restaurant. In 2025, we should be able to give each other a High Five to celebrate the building’s completion.

Worth it

A lot is happening at the moment, and we plan on picking up the pace over the next few years. Starting from 2024, builders will be at work constantly somewhere at Utrecht Science Park. It will be quite a puzzle to ensure that everyone can continue studying, researching, working and living amid the building activities. Fortunately, we love puzzles. Nevertheless, we will all have to be patient and put up with the occasional irritation over the next few years. International students may not stay long enough to see it through to completion. But they will be alumni for the rest of their lives, and that is reason enough to come back for a visit every now and again. Eventually, all the hard work will pay off, and we will have a lively campus that can handle growth spurts, climate challenges, and everything the future has in store for us. A campus with easy, logical connections between all the buildings. A campus that offers space to come together, that invites us to collaborate across the borders between scientific disciplines, between students and businesses, between science and real-world practice, and between Utrecht’s residents and its (future) scholars. A campus that inspires users to find new solutions for a longer, healthier life together. And that is definitely worth the trouble.

Stay informed

We will keep everyone informed about current and scheduled work activities via the CampusDevelopment app and the website. If you can’t find the information you need, if you notice something related to the work, or if you have a good idea for a (temporary) use of a building or location on campus, please feel free to let us know via communicatieVenC@uu.nl, and you will receive an answer within 24 hours. Together, we will think about what can be done or how we can include your idea in the plans.