‘Progressive’ university building wins architecture prize

·3-min read

A building which has been described as a “progressive new model for higher education” has won a top UK architecture award.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) has named Kingston University London – Town House the winner of the 2021 Riba Stirling Prize.

The Town House was designed by Grafton Architects to be a democratic and open space, with a civic dimension which also reflects a sense of home and belonging.

Many of the Kingston students are the first in their families to attend university, and so the building aims to send a message that this is a place where everyone is welcome and valued.

The building is wrapped in a tall sequence of columns and it intends to blur its boundary with the outside pavement to invite everyone in – students, locals and visitors alike.

Internally, it is open and spacious, with a public forum at the entrance which leads to an amphitheatre.

It also has social and study spaces co-existing throughout the building including a library, archive, dance studio and theatre.

Building interior
The interior of the building (Ed Reeve/PA)

Chairman of the jury of the 2021 Riba Stirling Prize, Lord Foster, said: “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.

“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.”

Town House
Lord Foster said Kingston University Town House is a theatre for life (Ed Reeve/PA)

It beat the Windermere Jetty Museum in Cumbria and Cornwall’s Tintagel Castle Footbridge to be the 25th winner of the annual award.

Cambridge Central Mosque, 15 Clerkenwell Close in London and Key Worker Housing in Eddington, Cambridge were also shortlisted.

Town House was the first building designed by Grafton Architects in the UK.

The Dublin-based firm said: “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. 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 Town House
Kingston University Town House (Alice Clancy/PA)

They added: “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.”

Kingston University vice-chancellor, Professor Steven Spier, said it had been an “incredibly ambitious brief” to create a space that allowed students to both meet each other, have a library to inspire learning and room for dance studios.

He added: “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.”

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