Interview with Sean Woulfe

This month we have been speaking to Sean Woulfe, HEDQF Trustee and Director of Estates at Kingston University.


Who are you and what do you do?  

I’m Director of Estates and Sustainability at Kingston University in London, which is an institution focused on improving the life chances of a very diverse student body. I am on the executive of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) and on the editorial board of its annual Estate Management Record (EMR) publication. I am a trustee of HEDQF, of which Kingston University is a founder member. 

What is your proudest accomplishment? 

Steering from the initial RIBA design competition, the recently completed process of procuring Town House, the first Grafton Architects building in the UK, for Kingston University. 

What is your favourite thing about your career?  

Working with a great team of enthusiastic, talented people who are not afraid to challenge. 

Describe HEDQF in a sentence  

An organisation still in its youth, working to carve out a meaningful role for itself in facilitating debate about and promoting excellence in all aspects of design across the higher education sector. 

What is your contribution to HEDQF?  

I try not to miss any opportunity to promote design awareness and design excellence in my role. The creativity with which our Kingston School of Art students use the estate never ceases to amaze me – the video they made using Town House as a backdrop which features in the HEDQF Town House case study is a perfect example. Engaging with these less directly architectural examples of higher education design quality is important if HEDQF is to widen its appeal. 

What does a good HE building mean to you – quote.  

A democratic building without ego that actively enables students to further their educations, welcomes them and makes no attempt to intimidate them. Some HE buildings unintentionally act as barriers rather than enablers, particularly to students who don’t have a tradition of university attendance in their family backgrounds. 

One thing about you that will surprise people.  

I really don’t like surprises, so I will try not to surprise anyone with my answer to this question. 

Zero Carbon – 2035 or 2055? 

This is an issue that should not be reduced to a binary choice. Targets need to be SMART and relevant to the organisation. At Kingston University we are working collaboratively with the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames to agree a joint net zero target of 2038/39 for the University and the borough. As designers we should view every new-build construction project as a carbon emitter when compared with refurbishment or doing nothing. Of course, new build will always be necessary, but we must be honestly prepared to justify the emissions associated with all projects, without hiding behind offsets.  

Town or country? 

Town, no debate. I grew up in a small town in Ireland which gave me great freedom as a child, but I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere now except London, which is the most exciting city I know. 

Wine or Beer? 

Neither.  I do occasionally enjoy a drink, but I am not a great fan of alcohol and can easily go without it for extended periods. It is a drug that one sometimes has to apologise for not taking, which is strange and can be unintentionally divisive, particularly in multi-cultural settings.  

And lastly, where was this photo taken? 

On the way into the 19th Century tunnels at our historic Seething Wells site to look for bats.