The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has officially opened the newly restored square in Prince's Gardens during a ceremony held in the Eastside Bar this afternoon.
The square, purchased by Imperial College in 1956 to house Imperial students, has recently been heavily redeveloped with over £160million being invested by the university.
The latest development, the "Eastside" group of halls of residence, was completed in September 2009. This accompanies the new "Southside" group of halls, which opened in 2007. Another important development, completed in 2006, is the "Ethos" sports hall. This facility provides free gym and swimming to all Imperial students - the only university in the UK to do so. The Ethos centre attracts 1,000 users each day.
Other buildings on the square include conference facilities, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences and private properties. The building project used as much off-site prefabrication as possible, in order to minimise disruption to local residents.
The Mayor today visited Eastside for a tour, where students cooked for him in the new Eastside kitchens. The mayor then opened the square, which has been refurbished with new landscaped gardens and paths.
Explaining the reason for choosing Boris, Lord Kerr quipped "the original halls of residence on this site were opened by Princess Margaret, and we wanted to invite someone of equivalent beauty". He also said that Boris Johnson speaks with great wisdom, as Mr Johnson had recently said that Imperial "is London's true seat of wisdom and it is unrivalled".
Acting Rector of Imperial College, Sir Keith O'Nions, hailed Exhibition Road (adjoining the square) as "one of the great cultural thoroughfares of London". He said, "Prince?s Gardens is a pleasant and peaceful spot for them as well as for our students, staff and neighbours, and I?m proud that Imperial has restored it to such high quality. We?re all honoured that the Mayor is joining us to celebrate the completion of the work".
Sir Keith also commented on the importance of having accommodation for 866 students so close to campus, saying that "living alongside students in the same situation and with the main campus just across the road makes a real difference to how quickly they settle in and feel at home".
Mr Johnson described Imperial as "amongst the very finest of universities", adding that he was sure the redevelopment would continue to "attract the very best minds to the capital keeping Imperial at the forefront of discovery and learning".
Continuing, the mayor commented upon the success of Imperial. He said that he wanted to "see more Nobel Prize winners cut their teeth in South Kensington".
The "Boris" humour was certainly present, as he talked to the crowd of Imperial staff and special guests about scientific discoveries in London. After asking where the theory of evolution was first compiled, he bellowed "that's right! The London borough of Bromley! And if you have seen the inhabitants of Bromley, you are likely to understand how they came to the conclusions that they did".
He also asked where television was invented, informing the crowd that it was "in a tiny room above what is now an Italian restaurant in Frith Street", adding that the discovery of penicillin - also in London - is "very useful after a night out in Praed Street".
Imperial College Union President and former Live! Editor, Ashley Brown, also gave a speech at the ceremony. He shared his memories of the square - having witnessed the old buildings and the entire building project - reminiscing about the rat-infested basements of the old buildings.
President Brown called the new sports centre "a magnificent asset to staff and students alike", said that Southside had "raised the bar of quality for student accommodation" and said that the development "has transformed the experience from when [he] first started in 2001".
Referring to the high rents in the new buildings compared to the cheaper Imperial College accommodation elsewhere, Mr Brown also said that he "would encourage Imperial to maintain this variety so nobody is excluded because they are unable to pay".
Mr Brown completed his speech by saying: "Prince's Gardens has been transformed from a rogue's gallery of architectural disasters into a magnificent square. It is a credit to everyone who has worked on the project and a massive boost to the South Kensington campus".