Grafton founders Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell were not only awarded the Pritzker Prize this year, but also the RIBA Gold Medal - with their first UK building just now complete. This is the Town House of Kingston University in the southwest of Greater London, across the Thames from Hampton Court Palace.
Grafton was commissioned to build a 9,400m2 and £ 50m project through a closed competition in 2013. It replaced the university's precast concrete building, an architecture that is typical of Kingston County, and is reflected in the interior of the new building. It houses the main library and archive, ballet studios, a theater hall, "adaptive" rooms, and two cafes.
About half of the spaces in the Town House are open plan, visually and physically permeable, facilitated by a three-height “courtyard” in the center and a large staircase connecting the floors. According to the architects, this should facilitate the exchange of ideas and knowledge, a new, social educational process.
The ground floor is occupied by public spaces, cafés, and flexible meeting and performance rooms using precast concrete parts. As the height rises, there are areas for quiet one-on-one lessons that extend to the very top, where there is also a second café with an observation terrace and a meeting room.
The idea of permeability concerns not only the interior, but also the relationship of the building with the environment: it has many entrances, a lot of sunlight gets inside, but most importantly, the boundaries with the environment are blurred thanks to the multi-tiered "colonnade". It creates an attractive intermediate space that will become hanging gardens on the upper tiers. Column material is reclaimed stone, a nod to the Surrey County Council building across the street, a late Victorian building with a "classic" Portland limestone façade.