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Sparkling achievement

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Graham-Watts Partnership's pool at James Allen's Girls School in East Dulwich is an exercise in light and simplicity

The new pool by the Graham-Watts Partnership at James Allen's Girls School in East Dulwich, London, is a simple, modern, wellmade structure. Built in one of the few areas of metropolitan open land left, it is adjacent to a 20-year old design and build sports hall, also owned by the school, on the edge of playing fields. A former road bridge over the railway (built in 1866, now grassed), connects the sports facilities to the main school buildings. One of these buildings contained a pre-war pool, originally a summer pool floored over in the winter. It came to be used all year round, but was a basic box with a narrow edge promenade of questionable safety by today's standards and difficult to maintain.

This pool hall is now permanently floored as a school dining room.

All the sports facilities are also available for private club use outside school requirements, and the chance has been taken to reorganise sports site access and parking, and to connect the pool and hall. The exact location of the pool largely defined itself, set back from a large copper beech tree at the front, abutting the earlier sports building and at one corner, as close as possible to the site boundary.

Despite the suburban location, planners accepted both the form and the choice of materials. It is a simple arched, standingseam roofed enclosure, a low roof sweep carefully designed to avoid any roof penetrations. Inside, the 25m six-lane competition pool hall is edged with glazed walls at one end and one side. At the opposite (shallow) end are changing rooms, and along the other side are 200 fixed seats. The pool surrounds are deep to accommodate the large number of students that can be involved in interschool competitions.

Outside the pool hall, admin space is partly tucked under the seating, with a corridor connecting the entrance to the adjacent sports hall. It is a relatively long, thin space, but given apparent elbow room by fullheight external glazing. Attached to the building is a rotunda containing plant, with future plans for a tennis pavilion on the roof.

The pool hall has been an exercise in designing with light. Not just the quality of the white hard-surface finishing materials, the glistening water and the walls of daylight, but particularly the choice of bands of stretched fabric as the ceiling. The simple lines continue here and, even with uplighting, attention is focused back on the pool rather than, as so often, on major structural roof elements. In practical terms, the fabric is pervious to sound and the roof soffit behind is of perforated metal with acoustic absorbent. Reverberation time has come down from a not-untypical 4 seconds to around 1.5 seconds, complementing the visual tranquillity. (Though the water flowing over weirs at the pool edges is surprisingly audible. ) The partner in charge, Bryan Graham, points to the need to strike a balance of lighting - aware that dark water can be scary, while needing to control daylight, especially glare, not least because this can prevent supervisors seeing someone lying on the floor of the pool. There is extensive external fixed shading.

Air is introduced through grilles at the side windows and then extracted through a wall grille at the changing room end, keeping the air 1infinityC above the water temperature.

There is also heating underfoot and at the back of the bench seat that runs along the glazed side of the pool. For spectator seating, there are floor air-outlet grilles, with separate air handling plant working at a lower temperature. An undercroft, kept at positive pressure, runs under the building.

Very few schools have the £4 million budget needed to fund a facility such as this. This one has, and the design opportunity has been seized, creating an educational building in every sense.


TENDER DATE November 1999

START ON SITE DATE February 2000



PROCUREMENT IFC 98 with Quantities

TOTAL COST £4,067,600

CLIENT James Allen's Girls School

ARCHITECT The Graham-Watts Partnership: Bryan Graham, Bob Watts, Simon Fraser, Paul Morton, David Kemp

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Carter Clack Partnership

SERVICES ENGINEER Silcock Dawson & Partners


LANDSCAPE DESIGN The Graham-Watts Partnership


SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Pool filtration Aqua Process Engineering; underwater lights Aqua Pharos; sanitaryware Armitage Shanks; seating Audience Systems; ceilings British Gypsum; louvres, sun screens Corus; architectural metalwork DJ Cooke; wall cladding, roofing Durable Contracts;

electrical EIC; ironmongery Eisenware Swan; steelwork PLS; linoleum Forbo Nairn; roof insulation Foamglass; tanking Grace; windows HW Architectural; frameless glazing Ide Contracting; tiling, lockers Langley; mechanical Lonsdale; soil investigation LBH Wembley; security systemsMidnight Security;

precast floorsMillbank Floors; terrazzo viewing gallery Quiligotti; Sika render Quickseal; doors Soundcraft; wall panels Trespa


James Allen's Girls School www. jags. org. uk

Silcock Dawson & Partners www. silcockdawson. co. uk

Currie & Brown www. curriebrown. com

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