This month, a new research and archive centre for the Rothschild Foundation will open to the public, showcasing the philanthropic work of one of England’s most generous organisations. Entitled ‘Windmill Hill’, the U-shaped complex is comprised of a series of buildings grouped around a central courtyard, following the footprint of the farm buildings that originally sat on the site.
The Rothschild Foundation has been heavily involved in philanthropy since the 19th century and this Stephen Marshall Architects-designed facility will enable the public to view the extensive collection of Manor, Estate and Family Archives whilst offering a principle centre for study, research and outreach in the fields of the arts, heritage, culture, conservation, the environment and horticulture.
In the 1870s, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild constructed Waddesdon Manor – a grand residence from which he could entertain hoards of guests – and it is within the Waddesdon Estate that the recently completed Windmill Hill is situated. In 1957, James de Rothschild passed the magnificent property to the National Trust ‘with the intention to preserve the house and its contents in perpetuity’.
Stephen Marshall Architect’s new composition overlays a site formerly used as a dairy farm and with the Reading Room and archive stores on one side and the Rothschild Foundation across a central courtyard space, the arrangement makes a direct reference to the agricultural history of the site. Also paying tribute to the location’s working past is the select choice of materials, including oak windows and shutters, rendered walls, wood cladding, and zinc roofs, with walls 1.5m thick in some places to establish a stable internal environment. Vertical louvers previously installed to protect cattle from high winds now provide effective shading to those in the Reading Room.
Stephen Marshall commented: “It has been a privilege, to work with such a stunningly beautiful site and to be able to make formal planted courtyards within the bigger Waddesdon landscape. Everyone was a joy to work with and Lord Rothschild was highly supportive in getting the building, with its innovative structure, built. As architects we always think at this stage the building is finished, but of course as people, furniture and objects of art move in, it is very much the beginning of life for the Windmill Hill building.”