“Spaces for education have a greater purpose, they help build greater visions.”
A space where the door is open to everyone, and where learning is barrier-free. Where the sun plays with the shadows and the terraces have wide views. The Kingston University London’s Town House designed by Grafton Architects was awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize 2021, one of the most prestigious architectural awards in the UK. According to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announcement, this building designed by the Irish firm “expertly captures the spirit of learning and the value of community cohesion”. This townhouse includes a library with accompanying social spaces at Kingston University London.
About the structure | Grafton Architects
Completed in 2019, this 9100 sq.m. structure effectuates a sense of openness, liberation and sociability, which becomes very important for its purpose as an educational building. It includes an amphitheater, dance studio, exhibition galleries, study nooks, library, cafe, and plenty of casual gathering spaces, which could be indoors, semi-open outdoors and even on terraces. About half of the total area is designed to be open-plan. Characterized by an absence of barriers, and an abundance of natural light, the spaces here invite one to learn, interact, explore, and freely celebrate the process of education.
Design philosophy and process
As the Dublin-based Grafton Architects said in a statement reacting to the win:
“This building is about people, interaction, light, possibilities. It is about connecting to the community, the passer-by, an invitation to cross the threshold; a three-dimensional framework with layers of silence and layers of sound.”
The combination of contemplative education like research and performing activities like dance offers a unique approach for the institution to become more engaging and livelier. The building edges go beyond their end and become active meeting spaces, terraces, and galleries beneath colonnades and on terraces. Interlocking volumes like the loggia move vertically connecting the building from the bottom to the top.
The building faces Penrhyn Road. The architects also considered the connection of the building to the public realm of Kingston. The Town House has been designed to invite people in, and the colonnade plays an essential role in becoming a place of interaction and activity for the students, visitors, and even the general public who pass by the street. It helps establish the presence of this new University building within the public realm. This foreground of the building, which follows the classical tradition of the “portico”, forms new public spaces and landscapes along the full 200m length of the university frontage to Penrhyn Road.
Grafton Architects mention that the environmental efficiency of the design was emphasized by implementing passive strategies to ensure a comfortable thermal, visual and acoustic environment wherever possible. The structure feels permeable and transparent due to the colonnades, windows and loggias with environmental control also achieved through the use of these elements.
The spatial elements and their connections | Grafton Architects
The first thing that commands the attention of the new visitor is the 15 m wide courtyard flanked by stepped seating to create an auditorium space. This courtyard is connected to lines of concrete climbing the building, with open wooden stairs inside them. The central volume creates a dynamic with its surrounding spaces juxtaposed with the crisscrossing stairs.
Along with the courtyard, the ground floor has spaces like the café, foyer and performance and assembly spaces intended for welcoming the visitor. The courtyard offers views of the library and other spaces. Meanwhile, private study areas allow learning to occur uninterrupted. The open cascading staircases and lobbies help to avoid dark spaces and allow students to carry out a variety of activities while providing a view of the whole place. The terraced roof gardens, rooftop café with beautiful views of the Windsor castle, and the spaces in the loggias provide for recreation. The facades are open at the lower levels with colonnades and loggias and become more solid as one goes up where shading is required.
The structure primarily uses concrete frames, with brick and wood as the other most used materials. The material finishes give it an authentic quality and also match an industrial warehouse-like aesthetic. When the need of the hour is to build sustainable structures, the concrete used here is justified well by Grafton Architects, with the building having a BREEAM excellent certification. Along with that, the design also focuses on using passive strategies. They have used precast, prestressed compared to in situ concrete which creates less waste and allows faster construction. Blast furnace slag makes up 36% of structural elements, reducing cement use. The concrete double T beams also enable large spans and wider spaces, thus creating a lighter, leaner structure. The full height double-glazed windows embedded in these large frames allow in a lot of daylight while also providing insulation.
A landmark for progress | Grafton Architects
Architecture that connects with the existing public realm of the area and helps it develop a better identity, goes beyond its usage. Kingston Townhouse was designed with an open-door policy, which enabled it to connect to the neighbourhood. The colonnade plays a central civic role and establishes the important presence of this new University building within the public realm. The loggias connect the outside to the inside while the external terraces, walkways and balconies on the upper floors showcase the inside to the outer world. The building creates newer public spaces and revitalized landscapes adding to the quiet suburban street and giving it a dynamic backdrop. The building has been designed in such a way as to provide flexibility for usage, and with its strong structural foundation, it can witness life for years to come.
Aptly named, Grafton Architects mention that it seeks to become a home for the people and the place. The Kingston University building puts forth a new vision for the western suburb of the UK capital, adding to its realm an eminent piece of architecture.
Lord Norman Foster, who was a part of the RIBA jury, said that this Town House “seamlessly brings together student and town communities, creating a progressive new model for higher education, well deserving of international acclaim and attention”.
- Young, E. (n.d.). Grafton gives Kingston University a Stirling Prize-winning room for a view. [online] www.ribaj.com. Available at: https://www.ribaj.com/buildings/kingston-town-house-university-grafton-architects.
- Dezeen. (2020). Grafton Architects completes colonnaded Town House at Kingston University. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2020/01/29/grafton-architects-town-house-kingston-university-uk-architecture/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].
- graftonarchitects.ie. (n.d.). Town House, Kingston University London – Grafton Architects. [online] Available at: https://graftonarchitects.ie/Town-House-Kingston-University-London [Accessed 20 May 2022].
- Archinect. (n.d.). Grafton Architects has been awarded the 2021 Stirling Prize. [online] Available at: https://archinect.com/news/article/150285177/grafton-architects-has-been-awarded-the-2021-stirling-prize [Accessed 20 May 2022].
- ArchDaily. (2020). Kingston University Town House / Grafton Architects. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/933169/kignston-university-town-house-grafton-architects?ad_medium=office_landing&ad_name=article [Accessed 20 May 2022].
- The Architect’s Newspaper. (2021). The 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize goes to Grafton Architects’ Kingston University London – Town House. [online] Available at: https://www.archpaper.com/2021/10/2021-riba-stirling-prize-grafton-architects-kingston-university-london-town-house/.
- The Architect’s Newspaper. (2021). The 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize goes to Grafton Architects’ Kingston University London – Town House. [online] Available at: https://www.archpaper.com/2021/10/2021-riba-stirling-prize-grafton-architects-kingston-university-london-town-house/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].