Last year was a tough year to be a student. The festivity, community and intimacy so critical to the college experience have been brutally wiped out by Covid restrictions.
Students at Kingston University in London’s south-west end may have done slightly better, thanks to the opening of the school. town houseA civic megastructure that won this year’s Stirling prize, the most prestigious award in British architecture, on Thursday.
Its architects are Dublin-based Grafton, led by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who, with this victory, won both the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal and architecture’s top prize, a sort of hat-trick. Pritzker, last year. They also curated the Venice Biennale in 2018.
The townhouse, as the name suggests, was designed as a space between the university and the city, between the citizen and the home. It does this through a façade of imposing six-story high concrete pillars, giving it a formal splendor, but also a permeability that suggests it is open to the public and students, and forms a façade of terraces, balconies and bars.
Housing a library, archive, dance and performance space, study and seminar rooms, the hotel manages to meet conflicting demands.
Lord Norman Foster, head of the jury, described it as “a theater for life – a storehouse of ideas”.
“In this highly original piece of architecture, silent reading, performance aloud, research and learning can coexist delightfully,” he said. “That’s not a bad feat. Education should be our future – and that should be the future of education.”
Farrell and McNamara are admired around the world and have remained stellar, approachable and thoughtful.
His architectural approaches were heavily influenced by the long-standing Brutalist era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But they found in it the qualities of urban dignity, presence and openness, and it will certainly be a popular victory.
They said they were “absolutely satisfied” with their success. “This building is about people, about interaction, about light, about possibilities,” they said. “An invitation to connect with the community, to passers-by, to cross the threshold; a three-dimensional framework with layers of silence and layers of sound. Space, volume and light organizers.”
Townhouse faced a solid roster of contenders, all but one from outside the capital. Built by English Heritage, the Tintagel Castle Pedestrian Bridge in Cornwall (Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates) is a fine engineering beauty, but it has always been, perhaps, an outsider.
Two projects in Cambridge, a mosque (Marks Barfield) and key workers’ residences in Eddington (Stanton Williams), contrast in their approach. The first contains a rich, intricate bent wood interior that creates a domed, Islamic-inspired roof structure, the second is a minimal reflection on the tradition of the college court.
The darkened, low-rise buildings of Carmody Groarke’s Windermere Pier Museum are an elegant riff on local boatyards and industrial traditions. Finally, Group Work 15 Clerkenwell Close It is a mixed-use building consisting of offices and residences with a striking, structural stone facade. He got into an extraordinary fight when the Islington council threatened him with destruction.
Planners argued that the building “did not fit in” with its neighbors and that Groupwork founder Amin Taha had to defend his language with historical precedents.
Arguably the most interesting and certainly the most eccentric of the buildings on the list, it was an experiment in expressing and reviving quarry material, both structure and cladding, with all the often polished marks, imperfections and fossils. left in situ.
Comparisons exist between Groupwork’s façade and Grafton’s porticoes, and the latter’s heavy use of carbonaceous concrete (signature materials) is questionable as the climate rises sharply on the agenda. Ironically, Townhouse most closely resembles the work of US architect Paul Rudolph (1918-97), many of whose best works are now being brutally demolished.
There are some shortcomings after the award skipped a year in 2020. It is surprising that Peter Barber’s widely acclaimed social housing is not on the list and that 6a’s MK Gallery in Milton Keynes deserves special mention.