Town House by Grafton Architects in London | THE PLAN
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Town House

Grafton Architects

Town House by Grafton Architects in London | THE PLAN
By Stamatina Kousidi -

An agora, an amphitheatre, an atrium, a square, a stage. All of these terms, charged with social meaning, are apt to describe the open space that lies in the heart of the Town House – the new building of Kingston University in London, designed by Grafton Architects. This multifunctional space is a symbol of openness. Surrounded by high glazed walls, it allows views into the library levels and the adjacent dance theater. The building’s dual function – a library and a dance school – becomes then apparent to the visitor. This is a building that includes few barriers. The enclosure of public rooms is transparent, reinforcing a collective character. The ground floor is located on street level, allowing for direct access. The central atrium is meant to be inhabited at will when lectures or performances do not take place therein. The Town House is principally a public building: vibrant, permeable, unprogrammed. A sensibility for the public spirit translates into architectural form. In the inside, a system of open-plan platforms permeates the whole structure and provides a place to socialize, study or unwind. Natural light gains access into the most deep parts of the building, by means of skylights and transparent bands. In the outside, the portico on street level unites academic and urban environments. This porosity is being extended on the whole height of the building: the façade comprises a system of balconies, terraces and external stairs that urges activities, on a sunny day, to shift outdoors. The changing position of these elements assigns to the building a playful character, in contrast to the firmness of its porous grid framework. In line with the Brutalist tradition of Britain, the Town House is a celebration of raw materiality. The omnipresence of exposed concrete in the interior spaces emanates an informal feeling, enables a unitary character and reinforces tactility. The main staircase, made of thick timber, expresses a firm, substantial character. At the same time, the framework of stone colonnades that surrounds the building externally interweaves the classical with the contemporary. The solidity of materials is then boldly expressed, in a way that from afar, the Town Hall resembles a scupture, presenting the campus of southwest London with a recognisable landmark. The Grafton Architects, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell, who won the RIBA Gold Metal this year, share the vision of an academic building being a vital part of the city. The majority of their recent university projects, including the Town House, consider the free space as generator of social connections. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Biennale di Venezia that Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell curated in 2018 was themed ‘Freespace’. “There is an exchange between people and buildings that happens, even if not intended or designed, so buildings themselves find ways of sharing and engaging with people over time, long after the architect has left the scene,” the Manifesto of the Biennale read. As cities become increasingly more diverse, this passive character of architecture becomes all the more compelling.

Location: London
Client: Kingston University
Completion: 2020
Gross Floor Area: 9,100 m2
Cost of Construction: 56,000,000 Euros
Architects: Grafton Architects
Contractor: Willmott Dixon

M&E consultant: Chapmanbdsp, Des Electrical/CMB Engineering
Project Manager: Turner & Townsend
Acoustics: Applied Acoustic
Design Fire System: chapmanbdsp
Theater: Sound Space Vision
Planning Supervision: Lichfields
Façade: Billings Design Associates
Landscape: Dermot Foley Architects
Security: MFD

Photography: © Ed Reeve, Dennis Gilbert, courtesy Grafton Architects

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