The Utrecht University Area (or Utrecht Science Park) lies to the east of the city of Utrecht. It measures about 2 kilometres from east to west and about 1.5 kilometres north to south which gives it a size of about 300 hectares. That makes the area almost twice the size of the historic city centre of Utrecht that we can find at a distance of a little over 2 kilometres.
The University reports that on a normal working day around 70,000 people are in the Utrecht Science Park to work, study or live.
The decision to build the university at this location was taken in 1958 when it was thought that the city did not have space enough for all the university buildings. The area had always been kept free of buildings for military reasons, but with the arrival of air planes it was no longer necessary to keep a free field of fire to protect the city. The first building activities started in 1961, even before there was a real spatial plan. The lack of a spatial vision for the area would prove a problem later on. When building really took off in the late 1960s, a plan finally arrived in 1968. But in line with the times, it was large scale, designed around the car and with huge functional buildings only. In the 1970s the area was still mainly empty with large solitary modernist buildings at particularly the edges of the area. It was as if the university wanted to mark the borders of its new territory.
People complained the area was unpleasant and lacked cohesion. To them it had become an empty desolate place far away from the bubbling city centre. The complaints led to a new plan and to improve the cohesion, the area designated for buildings was reduced considerably. The existing area was clustered and this led to fewer and (relatively) smaller buildings closer to each other. The different clusters got different functions and one was considered to be the centre of the Utrecht Science Park. In this centre a central boulevard was constructed to form the heart of the entire area.
On the central boulevard you can still see some of the huge (once solitary) buildings of the 1960s, but with the newer buildings the boulevard is much denser now and this creates a much better atmosphere. There will be further building activities in the coming years. The boulevard is not accessible to private motorised traffic. Only people walking and cycling and public transport can use the central boulevard. Where there are buses now, the bus lanes will be transformed into a light rail connection to the city centre in the coming years (building is already taking place). Cars can get to the Utrecht Science Park, but they arrive from a different route and are led to huge parking garages a little bit away from the centre.
For my video I cycled up and down the boulevard around lunch time and you will see the area is bustling with activities. People enjoy the good weather to have a quick bite in the sun or they go from faculties to the more public buildings and vice versa. That there is a truck from some builders parked on the cycle way is no problem at all. Because the cycle way is extremely wide here, you can cycle around it easily. There is now also student housing in the area. At the moment for 2,000 students, but that can be expanded to 5,000. Something that originally also wasn’t planned, but it makes the Utrecht Science Park much more lively too.
Some still consider this university area to be remote, but at least the desolate atmosphere is now completely gone, especially on the central boulevard.
Cycling on the wide cycle way of the central boulevard of the Utrecht Science Park
The plan information for this post came from the “Plantoelichting stedenbouwkundig plan De Uithof“. The video was filmed on 10th June 2014, just before the summer holidays.