The RIBA Stirling Prize is a British prize for distinction in architecture. 2021 was the RIBA gold medal’s 25th year, and the glorious Stirling prize was awarded to the Kingston University London- Townhouse, designed by Dublin based architects, Grafton architects. The townhouse is a progressive design for higher education buildings, and it perfectly achieves an environment of learning and coherence of community. 

Location: London, United Kingdom
Architects: Grafton Architects
Year: 2020
Area: 9400 m²

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The University did not have adequate library space and were using rented spaces for dance rehearsals. In the year 2013, Kingston University, in association with RIBA, held a competition for architects to design a townhouse to accommodate the same. Grafton Architects bagged the design upon winning this competition. 

The townhouse consists of the main library, the archive, theatres, learning and teaching rooms, dance studios, cafes and multiple communal spaces. The building is open to all departments of the University and the community. 

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As one enters the building, a collection of generous staircases welcomes them. These stairs connect the lowest level to the highest and also to the gardens. The compartmentalised areas are placed at the lower level, and the open library space unveils itself on the upper level. The idea behind this was to achieve interlocking and overlapping of space to enable staff, students and visitor encounters, and at the same time, to include secluded nooks for deep learning and collaborative group work. 

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The architects designed the building democratically by adding a civic dimension with a spirit of belonging and openness. The aim was to delay the moment of inside-outside and transcending function. This building captures the lightness, mobility and subtlety of architecture whilst accommodating two spaces that are so contradictory. 

The architecture of the townhouse is a seamless amalgamation of two conflicting functional spaces- library and dance studios. Wherein at any given point, a highly cerebral academic, immersed in their books, could be graced with a dancer’s movement and balance on the stairs and even around the columns. Thus, adding piquancy to their otherwise mundane study session. 

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The building is collonaded on three sides. This was inspired by the external cloisters located in Northern European Architecture. The columns also add porosity and draw students, staff and community into the core of the building. The colonnade is 200m long and six-storeys high, offering shelter and casting shadows. The lower levels are quite transparent and accessible to the passers-by, allowing them to engage in activities happening inside from the outside. 

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The colonnade is made from reconstituted stone, summoning the facade of the Surrey County Council. The building is made of a concrete framework that is both structural and environmental.  

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The acoustics in the building are exceptional. The ceiling is made of acoustic baffles, which absorbs sound, and the wall panels are striated to scatter and reflect sound. The exemplary acoustics facilitate the concurrence of quiet spaces, loud dance performance practices, theatre and learning. 

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The open and vast interior spaces form the public forum. Lectures, performances, social engagements take place here. The architects have managed to create a juxtaposition of contemplative and performative activities under one roof. 

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The University is designed in such a way that it doesn’t feel like an institutional space. It allows spontaneity and freedom of activities. The building is flexible and transforms into informal spaces like a coffee shop, a casual hangout spot or a learning centre. 

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The building responds very well to the people, scale, volume, light, interaction and multiple possibilities. It is an open-ended framework that delivers elasticity and generosity, thus allowing the building to change and grow over time. 

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Architecture, in general, is very giving. And that’s what the architects wanted to evoke in this building. Hence, they created open, porous and compliant spaces for the staff and students to utilise. For instance, the Portico transforms into a coffee shop or sit out when furniture is placed under it. And the space can also be used by passers-by to chat with a friend or to wait for the bus. So typically, informal learning, rehearsals, group work, research and social interactions all happen under the same roof. 

Creating a multipurpose structure is what most architecture is, and Grafton Architects have achieved that very well. The external terraces, balconies, walkways bring life to the facade and uncover the exciting university life to the world outside. This townhouse is truly a model for the new progressive learning methods. Grafton Architects have set a new benchmark altogether. 

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Bibliography

ArchDaily. (2020). Kingston University Town House / Grafton Architects. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/933169/kignston-university-town-house-grafton-architects.

www.graftonarchitects.ie. (n.d.). Town House, Kingston University London – Grafton Architects. [online] Available at: https://www.graftonarchitects.ie/Town-House-Kingston-University-London.

Architecture.com. (2019). RIBA Stirling Prize. [online] Available at: https://www.architecture.com/awards-and-competitions-landing-page/awards/riba-stirling-prize.

www.youtube.com. (n.d.). RIBA Stirling Prize 2021: Kingston Townhouse. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjJz3nmlKTY [Accessed 21 Oct. 2021].

www.youtube.com. (n.d.). RIBA Stirling Prize 2021: Kingston University Town House. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTWnK0opYlQ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2021].

Dezeen. (2021). Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 Stirling Prize. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/10/14/2021-stirling-prize-winner-kingston-town-house-grafton/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2021].

Author

She is an architect, trying her hands at architectural writing currently. She’s charmed by the 3C’s of architecture- conscious, contextual, cultural. Her heart does not lie in a high profile job or an elaborate resumè. She yearns to enrich the architectural world with honest, humble, and free-spirited writing.

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