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Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

United Kingdom Architecture News - Oct 15, 2021 - 11:25   1299 views

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning studio Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House has won the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The prestigious annual prize is awarded to the UK’s best new building.

Selected as the winner of the 25th RIBA Stirling Prize, the project was highly praised for being "a progressive new model for the design of higher education buildings. 

According to a statement by RIBA, "the dynamic student Town House expertly captures the spirit of learning and the value of community cohesion."

Grafton Architects' winning project Kingston University London – Town House was selected from the six strong shortlisted projects, including Marks Barfield Architects' modern urban mosque Cambridge Central Mosque, Amin Taha's speculative project 15 Clerkenwell Close, Stanton Williams' Key Worker Housing, Eddington, Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates' Tintagel Castle Footbridge for English Heritage in Cornwall and Carmody Groarke's Windermere Jetty Museum in Cumbria.

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Ed Reeve

RIBA Gold Medal-winning practice Grafton Architects, led by the Irish duo Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, won an international competition to design the project initiated by the University in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2013. 

The six-storey building acts as a gateway at the Kingston University's Penrhyn Road campus in London. The building comprises a multi-floor academic library, archive as well as dance studios and a studio theatre. 

The flagship building also incorporates a covered internal courtyard, cafes and external balconies and walkways. The Town House is the first building of the studio completed in the United Kingdom.

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Ed Reeve

As the project's name suggests: "Town" is referring to the building’s civic dimension, and "House" is reflecting a sense of home and belonging. 

Many of the students at Kingston are the first in their family to attend university and this building sends an important message to them, their educators and the local community, that this is a place where everyone is welcome and valued.

The building is set back from the street, while the project extends the public realm. 

Through its colonnaded structure, derived from a three-dimensional matrix in the organization, the building generously blurs its boundary with the pavement and invites everyone in – students, locals and visitors alike. 

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Ed Reeve

Within the building, there are no barriers. It distinctive façade spans to 200 meters and features deep colonnade creating shadow and shelter, with terraces and gardens above offering shelves of connected public space. 

The facades are entirely permeable - which are kept open and transparent at the lower levels – revealing views to the passer-by of the engaging activities taking place inside – becoming more shaded at upper levels.

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Ed Reeve

The building is equally open and spacious inside, users and visitors are welcomed by the public forum, leading to an amphitheatre. 

From the ground floor, eyes are drawn up through the building – through voids and staircases – to complementing social and study spaces. 

Exemplary acoustic design enables the bustling public forum, quiet library, archive, dance studio and theatre to co-exist, and enrich the experience of the users.

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Dennis Gilbert

"We imagined a place where students would feel at home. 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," said Grafton Architects. 

"Space, volume and light are the organisers. The building edges are not boundaries but active gathering spaces, terraces, galleries. Being outside under the big sky is always just a few steps away." 

"Kingston University gave us this educational vision which we translated into a spatial open matrix. We are absolutely delighted the Kingston Town House has won the prestigious Stirling Prize," added Grafton Architects.

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Dennis Gilbert

Proposing generous volumes that allow people, light and air to flow naturally through the building, the building also uses a thermally-activated concrete to reduce operational energy use. 

"This highly-adaptable building will stand the test of time and provide an inspiring environment for students, residents and visitors for years to come," reads a statement by RIBA.

"The future of education"

"Kingston University Town House is a theatre for life – a warehouse of ideas. It seamlessly brings together student and town communities, creating a progressive new model for higher education, well deserving of international acclaim and attention," said Norman Foster, the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize Jury Chair. 

"In this highly original work of architecture, quiet reading, loud performance, research and learning, can delightfully co-exist. That is no mean feat. Education must be our future – and this must be the future of education."

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Alice Clancy

"We had an incredibly ambitious brief – to create a space for students that would allow them to benefit from knowing each other, a library to inspire learning, dance studios and a softening of the threshold between gown and town. Grafton Architects delivered just such an innovative programme. The result is a breathtaking new building for Kingston University," said Kingston University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Steven Spier.

The Stirling Prize confirms Town House as a world-class building and, therefore, a fitting foil to the aspirations of our students, many of whom are the first in their families to go to university. It is invigorating to witness the creativity, collaboration and shared learning this open, inviting space fosters. Our students have embraced Town House, relishing the opportunity to find their place within it and make its many spaces their own.

"Working with an architecture practice of Grafton Architects substantial expertise and international stature on what was their first building in the United Kingdom has enabled us to attain our bold vision for Town House – an achievement of which our students, staff and the wider community are truly proud," Spier added.

Grafton Architects' Kingston University London – Town House wins 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize

Image © Dennis Gilbert

The jury for the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize was: Lord Norman Foster, Chair, RIBA President Simon Allford, architect and 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize winner Annalie Riches and artist Dame Phyllida Barlow. 

The jury was advised by architect and sustainability expert Mina Hasman.

Grafton Architects won the 2013 RIBA Competition to design the Town House. It is the Dublin-based practice's first built project in the UK. Grafton Architects received the Royal Gold Medal for architecture in 2020 and the firm won the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize

In 2019, Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley's Goldsmith Street housing development won, while Foster + Partners' Bloomberg European HQ was awarded with the award in 2018. 

Top image © Dennis Gilbert

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