Kingston University Town House wins top UK architecture prize

14 October 2021, 20:00

Kingston Town House has won a prestigious architecture award
Kingston Town House has won a prestigious architecture award. Picture: Getty

By Daisy Stephens

Kingston University's Town House, which was described as "a warehouse of ideas", has been named the winner of the 2021 Riba Stirling Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba).

Designed by Grafton Architects, the Town House is wrapped in a tall sequence of columns and the inside is open and spacious, boasting a public forum, amphitheatre, and social and study spaces including a library, archive, dance studio and theatre.

"Kingston University Town House is a theatre for life - a warehouse of ideas," said Lord Foster, chairman of the jury of the 2021 Riba Stirling Prize.

"It seamlessly brings together student and town communities, creating a progressive new model for higher education, well deserving of international acclaim and attention.

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"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."

The inside of the building is open and welcoming
The inside of the building is open and welcoming. Picture: Getty

The building was designed to be a democratic and open space and reflect a sense of home and belonging.

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

The distinctive columns intend to blur the boundary with the pavement outside, to invite everyone - students, locals and visitors - inside.

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The building 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.

The architects said they wanted it to feel as if "being outside under the big sky is always just a few steps away"
The architects said they wanted it to feel as if "being outside under the big sky is always just a few steps away". Picture: Getty

Town House was the first building designed by Grafton Architects in the UK, who said they were "delighted" about the award.

The Dublin-based firm said the building was about "people, interaction, light, possibilities", and they wanted students to feel "at home".

"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," they said.

"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."

They added: "Kingston University gave us this educational vision which we translated into a spatial open matrix."

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

"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," he added.

"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."