Kingston University has appointed Grafton Architects to develop initial design concepts for a proposed academic building and other improvements at the Middle Mill site next to its Knights Park campus.

The announcement comes after the University worked with RIBA Competitions to select a multi-disciplinary team for the project. Six practices, described by the Architects’ Journal as a “who’s who of leading architects, ” were shortlisted as part of the selection process before the final decision was made.

Grafton Architects has worked on a range of internationally acclaimed projects across the globe. In 2020, it was awarded the prestigious RIBA Royal Gold Medal in recognition of its significant influence on the advancement of architecture.

The Dublin-based practice already has strong links with the University, having designed its RIBA Stirling Prize and EU Mies van der Rohe Award-winning Town House building at the Penrhyn Road campus. The landmark building – the first designed by Grafton in the United Kingdom – has proven popular with students and earned glowing commendations since opening in early 2020.

It is envisaged any new building proposed for Middle Mill will increase the amount of studio-based teaching space and technical support facilities available for students completing courses at Kingston School of Art. The site will also become an asset in the wider borough, with landscaping and other improvements sympathetic to the location’s relationship with the Hogsmill River and close connection to Knights Park.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier said the University was keen to ensure any proposals for Middle Mill reflected the creative character and quality of education for which Kingston School of Art was renowned. The appointment of a design team of Grafton’s stature for the project mirrored the University’s bold ambitions for its future, he added.

“Grafton Architects’ inspiring early vision for Middle Mill supports our commitment to developing our students’ future skills and increasing the University’s influence and impact at the highest levels nationally,” he said. “We firmly believe world-class architectural design underpins creative problem solving and educational achievement, providing a stimulating setting in which collaboration and shared learning thrive.”

Grafton Architects’ co-founders Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell said the opportunity to develop designs for the Middle Mill site reflecting its distinct natural landscape, wildlife and riverside location had a unique appeal. The surrounding ecosystem and biosphere would be central to the team’s thinking as they added initial ideas for the University to consider. These would be based around a river campus theme.

“Our aim is to develop an optimistic model of how we inhabit the earth – how we can occupy land in responsible, imaginative, caring ways. While education is a serious business, we also want to capture the joy of discovery,” McNamara explained. “We see the river as a thread binding the campus together, joining Knights Park to a new building. The proximity of the life of the river and the life of the building will be there together, of equal status.”

Creating a sense of well-being and identity for students would also be critical elements of the design approach, Farrell added. “Architecture has a real role to play in heightening awareness of where people are on the planet, while we often liken education to a flowing, sharing river,” she said.

“We want to design something that capitalises on and emphasises what the University has to offer already, and that is equally full of hope for a sustainable future for generations to come. We also want to create a threshold that is soft, welcoming and inviting to reflect the importance the University places on its outreach with the wider community.”

The Grafton Architects’ team will now start drawing up initial concepts ahead of extensive engagement with staff, students, the University’s near neighbours and the wider borough community. The University is currently working on a timeline that, depending on a successful planning application, would see a proposed building ready for use during the 2029-30 academic year.

First covered here.

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