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RALA completes London school reception block

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Emerging practice RALA has finished work on this £1.2 million reception block for St Christopher’s The Hall school in Bromley, south London

The east London-based outfit has replaced an existing timber classroom building with a ‘pavilion-like’ structure housing two flexible teaching spaces within the grounds of a Grade II-listed Georgian hall..

The scheme is potentially the ‘first in an ensemble of buildings, planned in accordance with a masterplan’ drawn up by the practice - a fee paying two form entry school for children between the ages of 3 and 11.

The architect’s view - Ross Lambie practice founder

The new building comprises a rational sequence of spaces, functionally determined, arranged around a legible circulation armature which reinforces and extends the school’s current arrangements. Internally, the classrooms are approached via the existing ‘spine’ corridor which extends from the Georgian Hall, where the main entrance is located, to the northern extremity of the site. A new, dramatic, light filled double height space concludes this journey. This space is both a ‘terminal space’ and an entry point from the north into the main circulation spine. A small courtyard is defined by this volume between the new reception block and the existing nursery building. The articulate transparency of the glazing which surrounds the double height hall contrasts with the brick nursery block, and visually extends the external courtyard.

A core of cloakrooms and toilets accessed from the circulation spine occupies the centre of the plan. Classrooms are located to the west of these ‘service’ spaces, with a full height glazed screen providing light, views, and access onto a covered external terrace, essential in allowing the ‘free flow’ of internal and external space which is vital to the contemporary curriculum. Large sliding walls between the classrooms and a central group room allows flexibility in the use of these spaces.

A top lit circulation space provides lift and stair access to the first floor, which is organised in a similar manner to the ground floor. The principle space, the Learning Resource Centre, has been designed to allow easy subdivision into two, or three spaces, should future developments require this. The space is designed from a child’s perspective, with low level panoramic windows, and continuous bench seating with views to the playground. Extensive clerestory glazing provides soft but dynamic natural light to the space throughout the day.

The first floor concludes in a reading room – a ‘hanging box’ with a large bay window overlooking the trees at the rear of the site – a ‘tree house’ for small reading groups.

The new building recalls the image of the pavilion in the park, a place set apart from the Georgian ‘Hall’; subservient to it, and offering a complete contrast in terms of formal language and materiality. The clean horizontal lines, sculpted form, and the emphasis on ‘lightness’ are architecturally at the opposite end of the formal spectrum from the solidity, weight, and restrained vocabulary of the Georgian building. The two co-exist across the shared green space of the playground, formerly the gardens of the hall building.

We have consciously tried to make the building as legible as possible for teachers, children and visitors, both internally and externally. The form of the building externally reflects the nature of the spaces within.  Every space has access to natural light; and as many rooms as possible are visually interconnected. Our ambition has been to provide a legible, rational, light filled and above all uplifting environment for young children to explore and enjoy every aspect of learning.

It is hoped that the new reception block will be the first in an ensemble of buildings, planned in accordance with a masterplan drawn up by RALA for the client, which reinterprets the circulation armature which currently exists, modifying and extending this to create a legible sequence of routes and spaces, both internally and externally around which the new buildings are clustered. It is intended that each building will retain its own identity, compatible with its purpose, but sharing the formal characteristics of the new reception block, resulting in an assemblage of pavilions around courtyards, gardens, and broad, light filled internal streets; a ‘village’ occupying the protected grounds in the lee of the Georgian Hall.

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