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A pool of ideas

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For Andrzej Kuszell of Studio E Architects, Haileybury has been an admirably loyal client. Indeed, the school’s faith in the new practice was probably a significant factor in its success. Studio E, however, has given its client due recompense, in the shape of a building which reflects the need for public schools to adapt to changing times and is itself a symbol of Haileybury’s absolute determination to thrive in the twenty- first century.

The very name of Haileybury is redolent of the Victorian Empire, although the school was, in fact, a Regency foundation, established in 1806 (as the East India College) to train civil servants for India. The first buildings were by William Wilkins (of National Gallery fame), fronted by a grandiloquent Greek Revival facade, complete with three imposing porticoes. Wilkins is now outfaced by Arthur Blomfield, the heavy dome of whose vast Romanesque chapel dominates the college quadrangle. Later additions include the dining hall, a First World War memorial designed by Sir Herbert Baker, with an impressive domed interior. Andrzej Kuszell began working at Haileybury while at Farmer & Dark. (The practice had worked at the school in the 1970s - Kuszell’s friendly, low-rise boarding houses being among its last completed projects in the early 1990s.) In 1994 he was approached to prepare designs for a new indoor swimming pool, the project to be the subject of a fundraising operation.

Sport has always featured strongly at Haileybury (still officially known as ‘Haileybury and Imperial Service College’, a reflection of its former military connections). For generations of Haileyburians, an outdoor pool was perfectly adequate in summer and winter. But times have changed. Sports facilties are now seen as part of the competitive appeal of a school - Haileybury, which is going fully co-educational next academic year, recruits pupils from as far afield as Russia. Bradfield, Charterhouse and Cheltenham Ladies’ College are among comparable institutions which have invested heavily in new sport and recreation buildings.

The fact that a single donor (an old boy, of course) came forward to fund the total cost of the pool (around £1.3 million) did not encourage extravagance, rather the opposite. The donor was closely involved with the school and the Studio E team in the detailed design process, a critical but always supportive presence, but determined to end up with an outstanding building. For Kuszell, the ‘total commitment’ of the school and its generous alumnus to quality was an inspiration. The architect was in turn committed to providing value for money, but not at the expense of appearances. Sports buildings, says Kuszell, are there ‘to exhilarate both body and mind. A swimming pool - and I’m a keen swimmer myself - can be a very competitive environment, but it’s also a sensual environment, to be enjoyed’.

The site was tucked away from the main core of the school and formed a missing link in a developing sports complex. To one side were the nineteenth- century fives and squash courts, elegantly utilitarian brick structures, to the other a highly practical, but undeniably rather barren, portal frame covered sports hall of the 1970s. The new pool would provide not only a visual link, but would allow all the facilities to be physically joined, with shared changing rooms. ‘Filling the gap’ was an obvious move, but it was not uncontentious. Beyond the existing buildings, to the north, lay an area of mature woodland, owned by the school and sacrosanct from development - indeed, designated as an sssi. Merely blocking out views into the woodland was unacceptable.

Swimming pools can be beautiful, but they firstly have to work well. They have to be safe and they have to be durable - high humidity has to be controlled or materials suffer. From the beginning, the Haileybury pool was intended to be used not only by the school community - around 1000, including pupils, staff and their families - but also by outsiders, who can take out membership (1300 have done so to date), or simply pay at the door, and use it outside school hours. The proceeds effectively pay the running costs of the pool, including the employment of full-time professional staff.

The three key elements in Studio E’s design are the highly sculptural ‘floating’ roof, supported by structural ‘trees’, the use of glazing to permit views right through the interior, and - a less obvious but no less critical move - a section which is the key to the practical and visual success of the scheme. The brief was for a 25m, six-lane pool of competition standard which could also be used for water polo, aqua sports and canoe training, and, of course, by inexperienced swimmers and learners. The design exploits the contours of the site. The water level in the pool is on a plane with the external forecourt. Spectator galleries are set 1.4m above the water, on the same level as a new terrace along the edge of the woodland. From the north, there is a striking view down into the pool - at night, the edge of the wood is gently lit, giving a particularly dramatic effect when seen from inside the building.

Inside, it is the directness of the architectural and engineering approach, a collaboration between Studio E and Dewhurst Macfarlane, which impresses. Firstly, there is the calming quality of natural light. The building rarely needs artificial lighting during the daytime - but there is a complete lack of glare. (Sunlight falling on to water can blind lifeguards to the plight of a swimmer in trouble.) Secondly, the simple elegance of the structure is allowed to stand uncompromised. The laminated Swedish timber roof beams are effortlessly integrated with the steel ‘trees’ to support a lightweight, profiled steel cladding, with plenty of headroom for any activity. This is an undogmatic, even pragmatic, modern architecture which makes no special pleading for one set of materials but uses those which work well and look right in their context.

After the first impressions, the details. Declining to be High-Tech, the architects have no qualms about using solid masonry where appropriate - the changing rooms, for example, are partitioned off by solid, tiled walls, built to take substantial wear. The balance between solid and ethereal (the glazed end elevations) would have been tauter had frameless glazing been used - this was the original intention, but cost limits intervened. Solid infills, incidentally, are visibly non-structural, at no time touching the frame. The actual pool is a steel tank, novel in this country but cheaper and quicker to install than the usual in-situ concrete construction covered in glazed tiles. The motorised cover is cleverly designed to roll away under the public gallery.

Working with Max Fordham Associates, the architects produced a consistent low-energy strategy for the building. When the interior seriously overheats in summer, roof vents open to allow in fresh air, while double glazing minimises heat loss in cooler weather. With double glazing, internal glazed surfaces stay warm and do not mist over with condensation even in conditions of high humidity. High humidity means less evaporation from the water - therefore less energy is needed to heat fresh water. It is kept in check by a mechanical ventilation system, equipped with variable speed fans linked to humidity levels within the building and only normally used in winter. Inside, the pool feels very humid, but then so does the Palm House at Kew. Swimmers, like tropical plants, demand their own environment.

Studio E stresses that ‘value engineering’ was central to the project - that is, working closely with the project cost consultant, the Spicer Partnership, to balance the capital cost of every component against its effectiveness and longevity in use. A few corners were cut - disabled access to the galleries, for example, is not possible at present, though stair-lifts could be added. But the overall look of the building belies its cost - £1000/m2. As Kuszell points out, this is little more than the cost of a ‘very basic’ pool - equivalent facilities of recent date have cost up to 50 per cent more.

The final confirmation of the quality of the scheme comes from analysis of the plan, where the neat junction with the pre-existing buildings becomes clear. It is a very good, highly practical fit. Haileybury’s new pool looks like a very sound investment which will wear well. Swimming pools - like, say, hospitals - are largely the preserve of specialist practices who produce dependable, but often dull and corporate-looking, buildings. Once in a while, an outsider, often a new-ish outfit, does a pool that is something special - one thinks of Alsop & Lyall at Sheringham or Steven Hodder at Colne. Studio E has produced a building to refresh body and soul, a handsome pavilion which should make even the most confirmed non-swimmer long to dive in. Mens sana in corpore sano was the public school ideal in the days when Haileybury was founded. Studio E has created a place where the tag can once again mean something.



Haileybury and Imperial Service College


Studio E Architects: project director Andrzej Kuszell, project architect Ian Hossack, assistants Karen Compton-James, Matthew Lake, Stefan Schleifer, Kasia Skorkowska, Oliver Wilton


Max Fordham Associates


Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners


Spicer Partnership


Willmott Dixon Construction


roofs WW Roofing, pool tank Aqua Design and Play, pool plant Thermelek Engineering, mechanical services Swift Engineering Services, electrical services Firmline, structural steelwork Sedling Engineering, windows Fleetwood


architectural steelwork Estuary Fabrications, doors Crosby, cubicles Amwell Laminates, roofing Plannja, paint Akzo Nobel, Valtti Specialist Coatings, tiles Focus Ceramics, door ironmongery NT Laidlaw, precast floors Bison Concrete Products, cloakroom furniture Arkinstall Cloakroom Equipment, ceilings Rockfon, external paving Marshalls Mono, window system Kawneer, flooring Altro, blockwork Marley Building Materials, tiles Langley London, light fittings Marlin; iGuzzini, external render Snowcem pmc, flooring Dalsouple Direct, carpets Joseph Hamilton and Seaton, entrance matting Tufton, roofing Sarnafil, glulam beams Moelveln Laminated Timber Structures

Cost analysis



Removal of existing structures to insert the new building. Alterations and adaptations to existing squash court and gymnasium buildings in preparation for the new works


Dry area comprising traditional mass-fill trench foundations and reinforced ground-bearing slab

Wet area comprising bulk excavation to form pool, pool inspection walkway, tanks and services ducts. Reinforced deep-pad foundations, reinforced concrete perimeter retaining walls, reinforced concrete backwash tank walls and services duct walls. Ground-bearing pool slab laid to gradient with powerfloat finish. Suspended beam and block floor to pool surround supported independently from pool tank. Fully taped damp-proofing membrane to perimeters of excavation with careful consideration taken of pool pipework penetrations


The underpinning of one wall of an adjacent squash court building


FRAME £73.53/m2

Structural steel ‘tree’ frame with two-pack polyurethane finish to pool hall incorporating sinusoidal profiled glulam beams. Structural steel wind posts and columns to curtainwalling and entrance area. Unframed structural steel supports to changing area roof


Beam and block to pool surround and spectators’ gallery

ROOF £73.27/m2

Sinusoidal mill-finished standing-seam roof with integral acoustic underliner to pool hall single-ply pvc flat-roofing membrane and insulation on steel and/or aluminium decking to changing, corridor, viewing and plantroom areas

ROOFLIGHTS £22.78/m2

Polyester powder-coated aluminium double-glazed system with electrically operated vents to pool hall and rooflights to corridor

STAIRCASES £18.63/m2

Mixture of precast concrete and folded plate steel with timber tread access staircases with feature balustrades. Feature balustrade to edges of spectator viewing galleries


Blockwork cavity walls fixed externally with high-performance self-coloured render

WINDOWS £53.45/m2

Polyester powder-coated thermally broken aluminium double-glazed curtainwalling including fritted glass to the southern elevation, sliding access doors to sun terracing and glass entrance doors. Polyester powder-coated aluminium clerestorey glazing to the perimeter of the building. Cantilevered toughened glass canopy to main entrance


Blockwork internal walls with steel wind posts. Acid-etched privacy screens. Glass back wall and fins to squash courts. Solid laminate wc and shower cubicles


Plastic laminate veneered flush internal doorsets with hardwood frames. Powder-coated aluminium reception window and frame. Painted solid-cored external doors in hardwood frames



Squash court remedial plaster and painting. Wood-floated render to plantroom walls for sound resistance. Render and moisture-resisting paint to pool hall and pool-side stores. Render and ceramic tiles to changing areas. Lightweight plaster and paint to all other areas


Remedial works to squash court sprung floor. Screed and ceramic tile generally to pool hall and wet-changing areas. Screed and vinyl to dry changing areas


Generally self-finished to pool hall and viewing galleries. Plasterboard and paint to corridor and entrance areas. Moisture-resisting tile suspended ceiling tiles to dry-changing areas


FURNITURE £9.55/m2

Benches and lockers, solid-laminate vanitory units; main reception desk; back of house areas and first-aid rooms. Pool equipment and pool cleaning facilities



White vitreous china wcs, basins, urinals and showers; hand dryers, soap dispensers, shower heads and drinking fountains


Above-ground drainage, soil waste and ventilation to changing areas. Separate plantoom, subterranean ventilation ducts to pool hall


Incoming mains, high-volume hot water feeds, cold water, pumps and storage facilities. Gas-fired boilers with enhanced capacity to heat pool, flues, calorifiers and pressurisation vessels, separate extract systems to showers, wcs and changing rooms. Low-pressure hot water heating to corridors and back-up areas. 100 per cent tempered fresh-air ventilation system with heat reclaim


Incoming mains, mains switch panel distribution boards, general lighting including emergency lights; feature lighting to pool hall and entrance; general power; electrical work in connection with mechanical services; earthing and bonding


Lightning protection system. Telephones and pool public-address system. Addressable fire-alarm system including interface with campus system; telephone and data wireways including panic buttons, bms system


pvc-faced stainless-steel self-supporting level-deck pool tank. High- quality pool filtration and flossing system and chlorine-dosing water- treatment equipment. Pool distribution systems including both inlets, deck-level channels and skimmerboxes


All services concealed and boxed out





Construction total (exclusive of professionalfees, vat, etc) £1,239,647 (£938.42/m2)

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