Building Study: Town House, Kingston University, by Grafton Architects

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Grafton’s first UK building is a thrilling reinterpretation of the university library, writes Ike Ijeh

Of all the construction sectors, arguably the one to have undergone some of the most radical changes in recent decades is higher education. It is very likely that those who went to university in the 1990s, as I did, would find the physical and social environment completely changed were they to revisit their old campuses today.

Architecturally many of the changes are self-evident. Financed by the introduction of student fees, student housing has mushroomed across the country even if, sadly, it varies significantly in quality. And many universities, particularly the former polytechnics, have realised that architecture is a useful branding tool in promoting identity and enhancing desirability, so have embarked on ambitious rebuilding and expansion plans.

But it is the social changes that have been most interesting and subtle. Perhaps in conjunction with the ongoing erosion of deference in society and the ingrained dominance of youth culture, many new university buildings reveal a less hierarchical and authoritarian pastoral approach, where learning is structured in a more informal environment than in traditional predecessors and social interaction is actively encouraged.

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