by Jerry ElengicalFeb 23, 2022
A library, a dance studio, a music room, and an event space all find their own volumes in Dublin-based Grafton Architects' institutional project on the campus of Kingston University, UK. The Pritzker laureate’s ‘Town House’ took its architectural cues from the educational vision presented to them in the project brief. Inspired by the desire to connect with the community, the project was conceptualised with a three-dimensional matrix. The stipulated programme was allocated within this matrix as opposed to the plan. The resulting structure is a singular complex space that links all the programmatic elements of the brief while defining individual identities for them.
Grafton Architects was co-founded by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara in 1978. The two founding partners are educators themselves and have taught at the School of Architecture at University College Dublin and EPFL, Lausanne. They held the Kenzo Tange Chair at GSD Harvard in 2010 and the Louis Kahn chair at Yale in the Autumn of 2011. Currently, they are Professors at the Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio, Switzerland. While the Town House is not an educational structure, its role on a university campus potentially takes cues from Farrell and McNamara’s own experience.
The central idea of the Town House, in addition to being a community space, is to encourage exchanges between the elements and to create overlaps. This environment is created by interlocking volumes and creating connections both physically and visually. The building’s educational vision and ethos are uniquely conceptualised unexpected adjacencies set up by the programme, for instance, the library facility is paired with dance studios, performance and event spaces.
Dubbed ‘a warehouse of ideas’, the infrastructure, façade design and architectural articulation incorporate ideas of democratic design. Even the labyrinth of interlocking volumes maintain a feeling of being unified, where opposites can happily co-exist. The building’s façade seeks to establish its civic presence in terms of its detailing, by establishing a relationship between the façade and the public spaces within its context. The transparency of the front façade opens up towards the central event space. It is here that the interlocking volumes become visible and can be seen moving vertically connecting from the ground to the roof.
The open-plan floor plates are supported by an elemental and expressive structure. This creates the spatial characteristics for loft and workshop-like spaces that offer inherent flexibility for future adaptive changes. The plates adjust as they rise vertically, reducing in size, becoming lighter and more open at the upper levels. This feature then allows for open vistas towards the town, the river and Hampton Court. An open staircase weaves its way up the building forming a connection between the interlocking volumes. The building’s interior plays out in the façade, providing opportunities to relate directly with the exterior colonnade that surrounds the building on three sides and provides terraces to act as extensions of the interior programme.
The interior of the building is predominantly defined by a precast concrete column and beam structural system supporting exposed ribbed slabs. The building’s structure was designed in collaboration with AKT II. The quality of the interior spaces is influenced by the type and finish of the structure. Using an economical structural column grid, the structure is designed to optimise its spatial qualities while also being durable. Externally, the colonnade comprises a frame manufactured with precast concrete meant to resemble a reconstituted stone finish similar to Portland Stone. A setback elevation infilled with a combination of brick, aluminium framed window panels and modulated with precast concrete fins which match the main colonnade elements.
The Town House is one of the five finalists for the Mies van der Rohe Award 2022. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara were the recipients of the 2020 Pritzker Prize and the curators of the Venice Architecture Biennale, 2018. Grafton Architects have participated in numerous exhibitions across the globe including their 2014 Sensing Spaces Exhibition in Royal Academy in London, a Pavilion in 2014, in Barcelona and the ‘the Ogham Wall’ installation in 2015 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The practice has won numerous awards for its work, including the inaugural RIBA International Prize for the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) in Lima, Peru, and the 2020 RIBA Royal Gold Medal.
Name: Town House
Location: Kingston-upon-Thames, London
Area: 9100m2 (10,450m2 including terraces)
Year of completion: 2019
Architect: Grafton Architects
Project Managers: Turner & Townsend
Structure and Civils: AKT II
Landscape Design: Dermot Foley