Kingston University Town House wins RIBA Stirling Prize 2021

8th November 2021


We are thrilled for the team at Grafton Architects whose project, Kingston University Town House, has won the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize 2021.

The RIBA Stirling Prize is an award for excellence in architecture. It is named after the architect James Stirling and is presented to ‘the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year’.

This year, six projects were shortlisted for this esteemed award, spanning housing and infrastructure, education and religious and cultural buildings. The projects address issues such as key worker housing, infrastructure and sustainability, stimulating important debate about the future of architecture as we navigate major global challenges.

Town House Kingston University Dennis Gilbert 2

We are extremely proud to have been part of this astounding project in which we supported our supply chain partners and appointed contractor Willmott Dixon to supply the facing brick used across the facade. The selected brick was the popular First Quality Multi, produced by one of our key manufacturing partners, Michelmersh.

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Creating a progressive new model for higher education, Kingston University's Town House impressed this year’s Stirling Prize judges with its dramatic concrete structure that encompasses a dynamic spatial configuration.

Warmly welcoming students back after more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, the Town House is not just about offering a competitive higher education experience, it is also about serving those students from less advantaged backgrounds and giving study space to those who would struggle to work at home.

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Dublin-based Grafton Architects is no newcomer to awards. In 2020 it was awarded both the RIBA Royal Gold Medal and the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. It has become known for a series of remarkable university buildings from Bocconi University in Milan, the campus in Lima’s UTEC, in Peru and the Toulouse School of Economics in France. In their UK project pipeline is the Marshall Building for the London School of Economics, due to open in early 2022.

"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."

Norman Foster
2021 RIBA Stirling Prize judge

Intended as a connection between the student population at Kingston University and the local community, the Town House establishes a new civic space that facilitates learning while encouraging collaboration and fostering a sense of belonging.

Town House Kingston University Dennis Gilbert 3

The public welcome begins at street level, where a colonnade of white concrete progresses for 200m along the pavement, creating a deep portico where tables and benches have made a popular meeting place. The columns rise the full height of the building, supporting a dramatic cascade of balconies and terraces and creating further opportunities for students to hang out, meet or study alfresco.

"Wrapping the building in a tall colonnade gives it presence on the street, successfully balancing the need to make a landmark statement with the wider need to respond respectfully in size and scale to its context."

2021 RIBA Stirling Prize Jury

Within the award-winning project, the jury praised the spatial resolution of the opposing uses, a dance studio and a library. Execution, detailing and acoustics were also acknowledged, as was the environmental performance of the building.

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"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 organizers. 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."

Grafton Architects

Town House Kingston University Alice Clancy 4
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“The building was brought to life by Willmott Dixon, with its design features enhanced by excellent construction quality, particularly the fairfaced blockwork, the ground floor polished concrete slab, together with the oak flooring and stair-treads and plywood panelling, which provide visual warmth. The contractor delivered on Grafton Architects vision, understanding the importance of ensuring the quality of the finish across all aspects of the building met the highest expectations.”

Kingston University

While more than half of the space is open plan, secluded corners allow for private study and group work. Sliding walls make for a flexible ground floor space with banks of seating that can be used for a theatre or lecture audience.

In its free-flowing generosity, Kingston University Town House is the exact opposite of the usual institutional world of isolated academic departments protected by swipecards. Instead, this is a welcoming, transparent place, where even the public is free to roam from top to bottom.

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Once again, we are delighted to congratulate Grafton Architects on this win, as well as all those who worked in partnership to bring this outstanding project to life.

Take a tour of Kingston University Town House and hear from the team at Grafton Architects below.

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