Posted Thursday 16 September 2021
Kingston University's flagship Town House building has made the final shortlist for the United Kingdom's most prestigious architecture award – the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize.
Designed by RIBA Gold Medal-winning Grafton Architects, the building, at the heart of the University's Penrhyn Road campus, is one of just six contenders to make the eagerly anticipated shortlist for the coveted accolade, now in its 25th year. The news comes after Town House last week secured a place on the Stirling Prize longlist, after being named one of 54 RIBA national award winners in recognition of its contribution to architecture in the United Kingdom.
Town House has been joined on the shortlist by 15 Clerkenwell Close in London, Cambridge Central Mosque, the University of Cambridge's Eddington housing development for key workers, Tintagel Castle Footbridge in Cornwall and Cumbria's Windermere Jetty Museum. The winner of this year's Stirling Prize will be announced on 14 October.
Opened in January 2020, Town House was conceived as part of a bold vision to create an inspirational new learning space that also acts as a gateway to campus for borough residents and businesses. Housing a three-floor academic library, archive, dance studios and a studio theatre, the six-storey structure was built by three-time Education Constructor of the Year winner Willmott Dixon Construction.
It incorporates an expansive entrance and exhibition space, covered internal courtyard and cafes, as well as innovative external spaces including balconies, an outdoor reading room and rooftop garden. The building also boasts BREEAM Excellent certification – a leading sustainability quality mark for construction projects and infrastructure.
The RIBA jury said Town House "framed a bold aspiration to design the beating heart for Kingston University within a building worthy of the international stage". It added: "This building is about high quality at every scale… nothing is out of place, everything is considered, and the result is a rich, beautiful canvas against which to set young creative minds free."
The Stirling Prize shortlisting placed Town House in illustrious company as one of the sector's most remarkable architectural achievements, Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier said. "Town House is a stunning building, with a variety of spaces that break down barriers and encourage creativity, collaboration and shared learning," he said. "We set out to deliver an exceptional, landmark structure that would not only enhance our students' experience but would also reflect the importance of our civic role and truly demonstrate the power of world-class architecture – a place that could uplift and inspire," he said.
"Being shortlisted for the Stirling Prize is further endorsement of the transformative role this building now plays in the lives of our students, staff and members of the wider borough community –something that will continue for decades to come."
Director of Estates and Sustainability Sean Woulfe said such prestigious recognition was testament to the University's enduring commitment to design excellence. "Town House is a statement of confidence for Kingston University and a building that really exemplifies our commitment to ensuring our students, many of whom are the first in their families to go to university, receive the highest quality of education and have access to the best facilities possible while completing their degrees," he said. "It has transformed the image of the University in the borough, becoming a catalyst for changing the way we do things."
Grafton Architects' Shelley McNamara said the practice had imagined a place where students would feel completely at home. "This building is about people, interaction, light, possibilities," she said. "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 gave us this educational vision which we translated into a spatial open matrix."
While the six projects varied tremendously in their location and use, they were united in their ingenuity and creativity, their consideration of their local environment and historical context, as well as their use of high-quality materials, RIBA President Simon Allford said. "As we navigate major global challenges, from a global pandemic to the climate emergency, this shortlist demonstrates the critical role that UK architects play in creating thoughtful and sustainable places and spaces," he added.
He cited the creation of dynamic social spaces at Town House as one of the ways each of the projects pushed boundaries and demonstrated the positive impact that quality architecture had, both on people and the planet. "In their architects' attention to detail and their clients' tenacity and commitment, these six projects set themselves apart," he said.
The Stirling Prize shortlisting caps a long list of accolades for Town House. It was among the winners of the 2021 Civic Trust Awards and a finalist in the prestigious Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards and NLA London Awards.
Grafton Architects was selected to design the scheme from a five-strong shortlist following a design competition initiated by Kingston University in conjunction with RIBA in 2013, with construction beginning in April 2017.