Posted Wednesday 18 March 2020
The Mayor of Kingston Margaret Thompson and Leader of Kingston Council Liz Green joined a host of other key representatives including local councillors, members of Kingston University's board of governors and former staff and students for an exclusive preview event to celebrate the landmark Town House building ahead of its official opening later this year.
Guests were treated to jazz and hip hop performances by the University's dance society in the cathedral-like courtyard space on the ground floor before hearing from Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier on how the building, designed by RIBA Gold Award winning Grafton Architects, is already transforming the lives of those who use it.
"Town House is an uplifting space - people come in and feel good about themselves," Professor Spier said. "It provokes different ways of thinking, working and studying. Someone could be in the library reading a book about a post-colonial literature and they'll see dance students performing - it's about broadening your horizons so you understand the world as a very rich and complex place and believing all those different ways of thinking and knowing deserve mutual respect. We also wanted to soften the threshold between the University and the community - it can be quite daunting. We wanted to invite the community in to this building and that is really working, with people in the café, in the library and feeling at home."
Professor Spier said the building achieved all that in a monumental space which was also very informal. It created a campus that gave students a place to be - something particularly important for commuter students who could immerse themselves more fully in University life by spending more time on site and getting involved with extra-curricular activities such as clubs and societies, he added.
Leader of Kingston Council Liz Green was visiting the building for the third time and shared with the invited audience her undimmed enthusiasm for what she described as a magnificent place. "It took my breath away. It's a fabulous building and I'm not the kind of person to use that word lightly. It's a great interactive space - not just for students but also for the community to come in and mingle, use the facilities and I think it's lovely to have such a space so close to our town centre," Councillor Green said. "The University has deliberately thought about how to bring the community in and I want to thank them for providing us with this magnificent building, allowing the residents to use it and for being part of our town - something we can all be proud of."
Roger Forsdyke, Managing Director of Wilmott Dixon, the construction firm that brought the building into being, said the Town House project was quite a remarkable and challenging journey, making it particularly special for his company.
"What you see is a very beautiful space that's had an awful lot of thought put in to it. There is a sense of space and a feeling of inspiration that it creates that is very special for my business and for the people who use it. In a society that often thinks more about the spreadsheet, this building has been conceived to make a statement, for the University and for the community," Mr Forsdyke said.
Following the dance performances and speeches, guests were taken on small bespoke tours of the five floors of the Town House, taking in the ground floor studio theatre, the three storey academic library and dance studios, culminating in a reception on the fifth floor. President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Alan Jones paid tribute to building's designers Grafton Architects, sharing some warm words about the significance of the firm's global impact.
"Grafton Architects are impressive role models. Their work, philosophy and ambition are of profound importance, not just in their home country and the UK but across the globe. They show us all how architecture, practiced humbly and humanely, can make the world a better place."