Grafton Architects in London

Friendly Brutalism


Brutalism with a friendly countenance: this is how one might venture to describe the architecture that Grafton Architects – Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara – have been carrying out for the past twenty years in Ireland, Europe, and America, from the School of Economics at Luigi Bocconi University in Milan to the UTEC campus in Lima. Brutalist and friendly, too, is one of the duo’s most recent works, Kingston University London, completed on a budget of 50 million pounds, which brought them this year’s RIBA Gold Medal. The building manages to inject into a rather delicate urban fabric – a context not at all apt for large gestures – the formal, typological, and material constants of the work of the firm Grafton: the accentuation of structures (in this case an asymmetrical grid protecting a deep, gap-filled facade; the open plan of modern tradition (organization around a central atrium and abundance of zones and spots where people come into contact with each other); a penchant for emphatic spaces (double, triple, and even quadruple heights); and finally a highly contemporary taste for povera materiality (where unfaced concrete and brick are the dominant materials).

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