Grafton Architects unveils ‘Warehouse of Ideas’ for Kingston University
RIBA Gold Medal winner Grafton Architects completes its first UK building for Kingston University
The recipient of this year’s RIBA Gold Medal, Grafton Architects, has completed Town House – a £50m landmark teaching building for Kingston University in London. The Dublin-based practice was selected to design the scheme from a five-strong shortlist following a competition initiated by Kingston University in conjunction with RIBA in 2013. Designed to act as the University’s front door and a gateway to Kingston upon Thames, Town House is part of a new vision for Kingston, encouraging informal learning and building stronger links with the town centre and connecting its vibrant student population with the local community.
Designed by Grafton Architects as an innovative learning centre for the University, the open ethos of the building is reflected internally, with over 50 per cent of the 9,400sqm accommodation designed to be open-plan. A matrix of interlocking spaces and uses overlap and weave together physically and visually, allowing students, visitors and staff to find secluded corners for inventive studying and collaborative group work while remaining part of an interconnected whole. Occupants of Town House can always see what is happening throughout the building, encouraging collaboration and exchange and helping to facilitate learning as a social process.
Constructed by the multi-award-winning contractor Willmott Dixon, the new building replaces a pre-fabricated building accommodating student, meeting and office space. Town House signifies an important milestone in the revitalisation of Kingston University’s estate and amplifies the University’s place at the heart of the Royal Borough of Kingston. With sustainability and community access central to the University’s key principles, Grafton Architects’ design radically reconfigures students’ learning experience, creating spaces that are liberating and open, allowing informal learning, research and performance to take place organically under one roof. Designed with the local community as well as staff, students and alumni in mind, Town House delivers a new dynamic and much needed civic presence for the community, offering a world-class vision for the future of Britain's university buildings.
Conceived as a cultural and educational hub for students, staff, alumni and the local community, Town House houses the main university library and archive alongside a covered courtyard, dance studios, studio theatre, and adaptable learning space as well as two cafes. As well as responding to the University’s requirements, Town House has also been designed with community needs in mind.
Reflective of the external cloisters seen in Northern European architecture, the colonnade is a key part of the scheme providing amenity space with no barriers or hierarchy that is intended to draw students, staff, visitors and the community into the life of the building. On the upper floors, three cascading landscaped terraces, which promote external movement and circulation throughout the building, form hanging gardens giving a sense of the landscape effortlessly connecting the scheme from ground level to roof. Constructed from reconstituted stone, the outer face of the colonnade echoes the Portland stone facade of the Surrey County Council building opposite, while the inner façade is set back to form the main elevations which relate to the spaces within. The porous nature of the six-storey building is evident through multiple entrances and access points, seamlessly guiding visitors inside.
The triple height internal courtyard, café, foyer and flexible performance and assembly spaces are located on the ground floor, intended to welcome visitors. Pre-cast concrete is used in the internal events spaces as a way of capturing the essence of the Borough and surrounding area in the space. A grand open stair weaves its way through the building forming a connection between volumes and uses. Meanwhile private study areas allow learning to occur uninterrupted. The external colonnade is mirrored by elegant internal columns, drawing the viewers’ eyes skywards to reveal the upper reaches of the building while floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with light, further emphasising the porous nature of the building.
The upper levels include large wrap-around library work spaces that have been created in close consultation with Kingston University learning professionals, allowing students and staff to learn within a holistic environment ideally suited to individual study and collaborative group working. As visitors move up the building, the stairs culminate in the smallest floor plate at the top which is occupied by a café, final study level and meeting space, complemented by an external terrace which offers spectacular views across Kingston and the River Thames to Hampton Court Palace.
The BREEAM Excellent rated building has been integrated into the surrounding landscape with an appreciation for the history of Kingston. New landscaped public areas feature at the centre of the scheme, creating communal areas for students and members of the public to enjoy together. Roof gardens have been incorporated into the scheme alongside brown roof technology to absorb water and to enhance biodiversity.
Professor Steven Spier, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, said: ‘A world-class building sends a strong signal to our students, staff and the higher education sector of the importance of what Kingston University does and the power of architecture to help deliver our mission. Town House will not only provide much needed structured and informal learning for students but will be a building for the whole community to use. Grafton Architects’ interpretation of our design brief will ensure the building’s presence helps dissolve the boundaries between the University and the Borough.’
Grafton Architects said: ‘Imagine a place where reading, dance, performance, lectures, exhibitions, research and learning, happily co-exist, under one roof, and the door is open to everyone. This is the new Town House in Kingston. The juxtaposition of contemplative and active performative activities offers an imaginative approach to education as a process of engagement and discovery. The architecture reflects this openness. Colonnades form welcoming meeting spaces at edges. Interlocking volumes move vertically connecting the building from ground to top. Activities are revealed to the passer by. There are no barriers.’
Roger Forsdyke, Managing Director for Willmott Dixon, London & South commented: ‘Town House has been a fantastic project to be part of. From the very beginning, we knew this project was special. Bringing Town House to life has been a truly collaborative effort with Grafton, Kingston University and our partners. We are delighted to have delivered such an inspirational education space; it is a wonderful new addition to the Borough and we cannot wait to see Town House being enjoyed by the University and community for many years to come.’