21 May 2014

Kingston Society Public Meeting: University Town House

My favourite Kingston upon Thames Society Public Meetings tend to be those where we learn about specific projects and so it was in May when Sean Woulfe, Director of Estates Delivery at Kingston University, came to tell us about the proposed new Town House on Penhryn Road.

This building was proposed to replace the "temporary" buildings that were constructed by the junction with Grove Crescent in the 1980's. This was a prominent site and called for a landmark building.

The University used a RIBA design competition as they were  keen to show their interest in quality design. The winners were Grafton Architects of Dublin whose University of Limerick School of Medicine building was short-listed for the 2013 Sterling Prize.

The University established some guiding principles for the design to follow. They wanted to remove the staff car park in front of the current building and to create a public space there which links to Grove Crescent. Staff would be encouraged to travel by public transport instead.

There was to be a permeable edge to the building with colonnades on each level. The building was also intended to be freely accessible, e.g. no swipe cards. The University was aware that some members of the public used the University buildings as a dry short-cut to/from Penrhyn Road and they were happy for this to continue.

In the centre of the building it was proposed to build a multi-purpose auditorium (not a theatre) that could be used for all sorts of events. This would be bookable by the public when not in use by the University.

Like the open entrance, the auditorium was intended to be another sign-post location that would help people to find their way around the building.

Levels 3 to 6 (the top) would house the library with access to one of the planted roofs on the 4th floor that would be a reading garden. This would be open 24x7 and would only be accessible by students and staff.

The plans for the site, particularly the floor plans were still being revised. New plans would be shown at the next public display due in July. It was expected that the pre-application stage would run from June to September with the final planning approval being given early in 2015. construction would take two years with the new building opening in 2017. The budget was around £30m.

The University was looking at the travel plans and was considering asking TfL to close one of the north-bound bus stops so that students and staff have a safe crossing place by the new entrance.

The University specified that the building must at least meet the "excellent" environment standard and they were hoping that it would be "outstanding". There would be solar (PV) panels on some of the roofs and there would also be some solar heating and a heat pump.

One design issue that had still to be fixed was the acoustic sealing for the dance studio on the first floor. With an open design (the University was keen on transparency) it was important to stop sound bleeding out of the studio. The concrete to be used throughout the building had been designed to dampen noise.

It was a very impressive presentation followed by an assured question and answer session. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into the requirements and the design of the building and this should produce a marvellous building. It is just a shame that we will have to wait until 2017 to see it.

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