Grafton Architects' Kingston Town House wins Mies van der Rohe Award in a first for a university building

Firsts and Lasts

Grafton Architects' Kingston Town House wins Mies van der Rohe Award in a first for a university building

Grafton Architects' Town House for Kingston University is now a Mies Award winner—the last U.K. to win the coveted prize following Brexit ( © Dennis Gilbert)

Following its RIBA Stirling Prize win last year, Dublin-based Grafton ArchitectsTown House, a multi-use higher education building at the Kingston University London, has now been honored with the EU’s top architecture prize for 2022: the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – the Mies van der Rohe Award. Featuring a soaring colonnaded facade, this concrete-framed community hub for Kingston University hosts a library and archive, flexible study spaces, dance studio, exhibition spaces, and much more spread across six stories and 97,000 square feet of space. Emphasizing openness and inclusivity, the building was completed in 2019.

In total, 532 buildings from 41 European countries were submitted for the 2022 awards cycle. In addition to Town House, two other Grafton-designed buildings were nominated for this year’s Mies Award, both of them in France: Institute Mines Télécom in Paris and the Toulouse School of Economics. The firm’s School of Economics at University Luigi Bocconi in Milan was a finalist project back in 2009.

Town House’s win marks the first time that the coveted European architecture prize has been awarded to a university project since the awards program, co-funded by the EU and Fundació Mies van der Rohe, was first established in 1987.  “… [Town House] shows that there is a need for public educational projects with the quality of this one, which dignifies people’s lives through education and being together and gives the same educational possibilities to everybody,” elaborated a press release announcing both the 2022 Architecture Prize and the 2022 Emerging Architecture Prize, which went to La Borda, a housing cooperative in the Sants neighborhood of Barcelona designed by Lacol.

overhead view of a college campus with church
Town House at Kingston University London (© Ed Reeve)

Notably, Town House’s win also marks the final time the prize will be bestowed to a building located in the United Kingdom—after this awards cycle, U.K. projects will no longer be eligible for submission given that the post-Brexit U.K. is no longer part of the EU. It is also the first time that a building designed by an Irish firm has been honored with the Mies Award in what’s a deserved complement to Grafton founders Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara’s current status as the first—and for now only— Irish architects to be named as Pritzker Prize laureates.

“Kingston University London bought into our vision for Town House and they were true partners with us on this prestigious project,” said McNamara in a statement shared by The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. “We designed the six-story Town House to act as the university’s ‘front door.’ We wanted to create a space which was inviting and welcoming to the local community and which fostered collaboration within its walls. This Award is a wonderful reflection on our client and on the entire team at Grafton Architects.”

interior of an open space in a university building
(© Dennis Gilbert)

Farrell added that “we are over the moon,” regarding the win and called out the firm’s “fantastic team who are dedicated to designing beautiful buildings that deliver on their purpose.”

The Mies Award, which is presented biennially and comes with a 60,000 euro cash prize, will be bestowed to Farrell and McNamara on May 12 at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona. The awards ceremony and related events coincide with Model.Barcelona Architectures Festival.

An exhibition, the EUmies 20022 Exhibition, will also be held in Barcelona from May 1 through 12, allowing visitors to view models, sketches, videos, and other materials of all 40 works shortlisted for this year’s prize as well as summaries of all 532 submitted nominees. Following its run at the ESklandestino gallery space in Barcelona in early May, the exhibition will then go on tour throughout the summer and fall with planned stops in Cologne, Brussels, and Vienna.

The 2022 Mies Award jury was comprised of Tatiana Bilbao, Francesca Ferguson, Mia Hägg, Triin Ojari, Georg Pendl, Spiros Pengas and Marcel Smets, who, together, “agreed to start the conversations without a pre-established agenda and instead develop an active, involved and open attitude based on dialogue and debate between the different positions of each of the members,” per a press release. Working from a shortlist of 40 projects hailing from 18 European countries, the jury then visited all five finalist projects: Town House, the Railway Farm in Paris, Frizz23 in Berlin, the Z33 House for Art, Architecture, and Design in Hasselt, Belgium, and 85 Social Dwelling in Cornellà de Llobregat, Spain. At each site, the jury was joined by each building’s respective designers, the clients/developers, local experts, and users for additional insight before reaching their final decision.