Award-winning design meets sustainability excellence
It takes a special kind of building to win the prestigious annual RIBA Stirling Prize – but Kingston University’s bold and sustainable Town House shows what can be achieved when creativity meets concrete. Lord Norman Foster, on behalf of the RIBA Stirling Prize jury, has dubbed it “a theatre for life” which “seamlessly brings together student and town communities, creating a progressive new model for higher education”. Rightly so, Town House deserves all the acclaim it has received.
Pritzker Prize-winning Grafton Architects have taken the key elements of the student lifestyle – studying and socialising – and wrapped them up into one beautifully constructed building, achieving a BREEAM Excellent rating for sustainability along the way. The name itself tells part of the story, where civic and democratic activities (Town) meet a sense of belonging, family and growth (House).
This merging of experience is apparent throughout the building, with an open-door policy to encourage collaboration between students and the local community. Perhaps most impressive is the acoustic engineering which enables a loud dance studio to operate next to a quiet library without disruption.
The six storey Town House is also home to an ampitheatre-style lecture and performance space, an archive, cafés, a covered internal courtyard and a rooftop garden. Thanks to sliding doors, larger areas can be sectioned off to create more intimate spaces when needed, or left open for informal use when not. This is all housed in a magnificent concrete structure, with tall columns acting as an exoskeleton which blends the boundary between interior and exterior.
The impressive height of the building is amplified by the internal open spaces created by long spans, ensuring a light and inspiring learning environment. For example, the lecture theatre is double-height and the triple-height courtyard requires spans of more than 15m.
This was achieved through a select combination of precast beams, columns and double-T components, drawing inspiration from the structural efficiency of long span multistorey carparks. The building combines the benefits of concrete cast on site and concrete precast in a factory. This hybrid construction, using the repeated forms of modular offsite concrete components, reduced the volume of structure required.
Concrete using a GGBS (ground granulated blast-furnace slag) mix also reduced the material’s embodied carbon. Its surfaces were left exposed, providing further material efficiency by avoiding the waste and embodied carbon associated with extra linings.
Because of this modular system – designed for ease of manufacture and assembly – and extensive use of cement replacements, the carbon footprint of the build was significantly reduced. Sustainability calculations concluded that the carbon footprint was 250kgeCO2/m² for the structure.
Another benefit of the concrete structure and polished concrete floors comes with the thermal properties of the material. In absorbing, storing and releasing heat as the environmental temperature fluctuates, the operational energy use is reduced. This means Town House can continue to operate with lower carbon and energy costs well into the future, as well as being able to passively regulate more extreme temperatures that are likely with climate change.
As a result of Town House’s versatility, it has become a favourite amongst its users. It did not take long for students and other members of the community to make themselves at home: studying, socialising and simply enjoying.
The building’s adaptability was particularly valued during the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, as its flexible use of space enabled one-way systems and social distancing measures to be easily followed. We cannot predict what we will need from our buildings next. Certainly, Town House is a building that can be repurposed and enjoyed well into the future, beyond the needs of today.