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The new austerity

While government-funded schools fizz with in-your-face architecture, two recent private schools are simple and serene, finds Rory Olcayto

The two privately-funded school buildings analysed here contrast strongly with the public-sector schools AJ looked at in March 2009, centred on Birmingham City Council’s Building Schools for the Future programme and its whopping £2.4 billion war chest. The build cost of Page\Park Architects’ preparatory school for Fettes College was £1.75 million, while Project Orange’s Jerwood School of Design at Oakham School was just £1.4 million, although its smaller footprint means a higher cost per square metre.

And while the public sector attracts big-name architects and is characterised by show-stopping design – think of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’ roadside-friendly, go-faster elevations for the Westminster Academy in West London (2007), or BDP’s Ralph Erskine-inspired cascading decks for its Bridge Academy in East London (2008) – these buildings designed for independent schools are altogether more sedate. You might even say austere. Both buildings share a sense of craft and materiality. At Oakham School, cedar shingles wrap around a concrete slab and timber-frame structure, with internal finishes of brick, glulam and plywood. At Fettes College, Page\Park’s low-rise, larch-clad, timber-framed classroom block has a zinc roof and oak panelled interiors, and seems a deliberate foil to the baronial bling of the 19th-century Main College building.

We sent gm+ad partner Alan Dunlop, who led the design team behind his firm’s multi-award-winning private Hazelwood School (2007) in Glasgow, to have a look at Fettes. For Oakham, we worked with Project Orange partner James Soane and architect Helen Woodcraft to select drawings and photographs that give a sense of the building’s simplicity and appropriateness. We welcome your comments on both.

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