‘It sounded loopy’: palatial six-storey hymn to social interplay is Britain’s greatest new constructing | Stirling prize

After greater than a yr of Zoom tutorials and on-line lectures, college students are again studying head to head – and nowhere extra so than at Kingston College’s City Home, a cathedral of social interplay that has been named the UK’s greatest new constructing.

A palatial £50m advanced, the winner of the 2021 RIBA Stirling prize is a six-storey hymn to one of many major causes for going to college: assembly different individuals. It’s a place of extensive sociable staircases, broad public terraces, and open-plan examine areas that look throughout to bounce studios and efficiency areas. In its free-flowing generosity, it’s the precise reverse of the standard institutional world of siloed tutorial departments protected by swipecards. As an alternative, this can be a welcoming, clear place, the place even the general public is free to roam from prime to backside.

“It’s a theatre for all times – a warehouse of concepts,” mentioned Lord Norman Foster, talking on behalf of the Stirling prize jury. “On this extremely unique work of structure, quiet studying, loud efficiency, analysis and studying can delightfully coexist. That’s no imply feat.”

View from the entrance … the award makes it a hat-trick for Dublin-based Grafton Architects. {Photograph}: Ed Reeve

The challenge is the work of Grafton Architects, the Dublin-based observe based in 1978 by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who’ve loved a latest string of successes. They gained each the Pritzker prize and the RIBA Gold Medal final yr – the Stirling now completes the hat-trick of structure’s highest honours. As standard, the modest duo credit score the facility of the challenge to the shopper’s radical imaginative and prescient.

“It sounded fully loopy to place these completely different makes use of collectively in a single constructing,” mentioned Farrell on a tour of the City Home final yr. “We liked the ambition to combine issues which might be often incompatible. The constructing takes pleasure in these abrasions.”

Inserting a loud container of dynamic, thrusting our bodies on the centre of a library may sound like insanity, however thus far it appears to be working. The quiet examine areas are stacked up across the cubic efficiency house, with stepped seating on three sides, making a multistorey theatre of views and connections. A broad staircase, extensive sufficient to stroll and chat, weaves its means up via a six-storey atrium, reaching a restaurant on the summit with views throughout to Hampton Court docket Palace and the Thames.

Diverting … study spaces give way to views of Hampton Court Palace and the Thames.
Diverting … examine areas give technique to views of Hampton Court docket Palace and the Thames. {Photograph}: ice Clancy/RIBA/PA

Within the phrases of Kingston’s vice-chancellor, Steven Spier, a educated architect, a part of the purpose was to see “a softening of the edge between robe and city”. The general public welcome begins at avenue stage, the place a colonnade of white concrete marches for 200m alongside the pavement, making a deep portico the place tables and benches have made a preferred assembly place – or just someplace to attend for the bus, sheltered from the rain.

The columns rise the total peak of the constructing, supporting a dramatic cascade of balconies and terraces, creating additional alternatives to hang around, meet or examine alfresco. It’s a daring beacon for Kingston, the place many college students are the primary of their household to attend college, sending an necessary sign, says Spier, that “world-class structure isn’t simply the protect of the Russell Group”.

The challenge was a shock winner. Most bets had been on the Cambridge Central Mosque. Designed by Marks Barfield, architects of the London Eye, the £23m constructing comprises some of the breathtaking interiors constructed lately, with timber “bushes” that department out to kind an undulating geometric ceiling.

Bit of a stretch … the dance studio.
Little bit of a stretch … the dance studio. {Photograph}: Ed Reeve/RIBA/PA

Maybe it wasn’t thought of sufficiently unique: a mosque in Rome, designed by Paolo Portoghesi within the Nineteen Nineties, has the same ceiling construction, whereas there are additionally distinct echoes of the work of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Nonetheless, all the historical past of structure is one in all copying and sampling, and the Cambridge mosque is one thing distinctly its personal.

Different tasks within the operating included the gossamer-thin Tintagel footbridge, the Windermere Jetty Museum, key employee housing in Cambridge, and a hanging “neo-neolithic” stone house constructing in east London, which the council tried to have demolished. It was a powerful vary, however one thing was lacking. At a time when the constructed surroundings is answerable for about 40% of worldwide carbon emissions, the significance of retrofitting current buildings is ever extra essential to averting the local weather disaster.

Because the gong goes to a good-looking concerto of concrete (for which no embodied carbon evaluation was performed), we would ask once we will see a refurbishment rightfully recognised.

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