Buschow Henley design creates synergy between existing Benedictine buildings
Buschow Henley’s plan for a new chapel, music school, languages department, assembly hall, examination hall and visitor entrance places these facilities at the heart of this Benedictine institution. Architectural styles, brickwork and floor levels vary, the latter by as much as 1.8m, between the original 19th Century house (now staff offices), the 1965 Orchard Hall (a dining hall that doubles as a theatre), the 1991 gymnasium and, opposite the 1937 Main Block (classrooms & library).
The scheme superimposes a square double height 225 sq m examination hall upon a 400 sq m assembly hall creating a cloistered form offset from the original house to the east by a court. The stair and lift are set in a foyer between the new hall and the earlier 1965 hall. This links the pupil entrance to the west with the visitor one to the east. Inside, the reception dislocates the autonomous and somewhat idealised school interior from the suburb of Ealing. To the north a wing of classrooms mirroring those in the 1937 building frames a new court.
24 concrete columns and 24 pairs of doors enclose the hall. Overhead, the gold hull of the chapel rests on the cage of concrete coffer beams. The chapel is a mute box of GRC. Inside, liturgical east is north and is lit by a single window and skylight that makes the sign of a cross on the chapel roof, east and south elevations.
Materially, the concrete spaces are akin to those in a medieval masonry monastery. The atmosphere on the top floor attic storey is very different- the engineered timber interiors provide an altogether softer environment for the music school which frames the chapel and garden in which it stands, creating a sonorous backdrop for the chapel. Where the ground and first floors are relatively introverted, rooms on this floor open up to the city skyline.
At every level the new building connects the neighbouring isolated buildings, literally the plan is incomplete without context.