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Kings College architects selected to US university design shortlist

By Clare Melhuish, on 16 October 2015

Belfast-based practice Hall McKnight, the firm behind the plans for a controversial new building for Kings College London on the Strand, has been shortlisted by Gallaudet University in Washington DC for a $160m redesign of its historic city centre campus. In May, planning permission for the Kings scheme was put on hold by DCLG  after Historic England decided it would result in ‘substantial harm’ to the historic Strand frontage targeted for demolition and replacement with a new building. Responding to the public outcry, Kings subsequently withdrew the proposals, which represented one element of the modernisation programme for its Strand campus.

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The Gallaudet project is intended to provide ‘a new gateway for the campus and redefine its boundary with the city as a vibrant creative district’ (BD online 15/10/15). The heart of the 40ha campus, close to the Capitol and the White House, was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted in a gothic style in 1866, and is designated for statutory protection on the National Register of Historic Places. The initiative is conceived as an integral part of a wider regeneration project in Washington DC, providing a focus for the city’s newly emerging creative and cultural industries, and will include a Visitors’ Pavilion in the new Gateway Plaza.

The competition was organised by UK competition organisers Malcolm Reading Consultants, behind the UK’s Olimpicopolis competition shortlist. Catherine Reading, a director, said: “What’s particularly enticing for European architects is the opportunity to design in the centre of Washington DC, for an extremely interesting client.’ (BD online 31/07/15)  The university is also of note as the world’s only leading liberal arts college for deaf and hearing-impaired students, and as a centre for deaf research, culture, experience, and design for deaf people through the DeafSpace design approach.

The key objectives represent current global trends in urban university development (see Gallaudet Vision), within the context of ‘Washington DC’s rapid metamorphosis into one of the most dynamic cities in North America’ (Fred Weiner, Gallaudet University):

  • Create a destination for creative cultural exchange and innovation as part of the 6th Street corridor and Florida Avenue Market revitalization.
  • Establish an exemplar of inclusive design and creative place-making within both local neighborhoods and the wider city of Washington, D.C.
  • Give the University a gateway which expresses a more open character, and better integrates the campus, with its wider neighborhood.
  • Shift the focus of the campus back to its much-valued historic heart and rejuvenate the public realm, making it fully inclusive and inviting, whilst also flexible and responsive to change.
  • Seek functional excellence by incorporating DeafSpace guidelines and inspiring new thinking about communications technology, way-finding, and branding.
  • Develop a space that can act as a conduit between the hearing and non-hearing worlds, celebrating human diversity – and with the potential to become a global model.
  • Increase awareness of Gallaudet University as an eminent institution of national and international importance

The winning firm will be selected from the five finalists in February 2016 by a jury which includes the British architect David Adjaye. Hall McKnight is the only British practice to feature on the otherwise all-American shortlist.

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