Colour Case Study #1

Monday 19 Sep 2011

RALA Architects introduce functional primary tints to new reception block at St. Christopher’s the Hall School in London

As you may be aware, WAN has recently launched an exciting new Specialist Award: Colour in Architecture, sponsored by XXL Glass. In light of this landmark in our programme calendar - and to provide a little inspiration to any prospective entrants - over the next few weeks we will be running a series of case studies focusing on the highly effective use of colour in a wide range of architectural schemes across the six WAN sectors: Education; Healthcare; Civic Buildings; Urban Design; Commercial; and Residential.

We kick off this series with a modest yet enchanting scheme in the South London borough of Bromley, completed this past May by local design studio RALA Architects. St. Christopher’s the Hall School is an intimate educational institution catering to the needs of approximately 250 children between the ages of 3 and 11 years and whilst the school has become a cherished part of the local community (its Grade II listed Hall building dates from 1750) the teaching units previously designated for use by the youngest pupils were rapidly leading to restrictions on the delivery of the curriculum.

This single-glazed, timber-clad, and felt-roofed block hailed from the 1960s and was costing St. Christopher’s the Hall School dearly for excess heating in the winter whilst overheating dramatically in the summer. As such, the institution’s Headmaster and Governors commissioned RALA to compose a replacement volume which not only exceeded contemporary standards but provided a ‘light and uplifting set of spaces’ for the education of young students.

The result is a captivating ‘Pavilion in the Park’ volume with two flexible teaching units directly linked to a shared group space by large sliding walls. Sharp horizontal lines and low-level panoramic windows define the space as jolts of primary colour ‘accentuate the formal, volumetric legibility of the constituent elements’. Wide expanses of red, blue and yellow weave in and out of the shared spaces, improving way-finding, stimulating the children’s senses and giving life to swathes of previously basic plaster.

As the design team explained to WAN: “The ‘object’ quality of the reading room suspended in the double height space is reinforced by the use of colour (in this case yellow) on the continuous, folded surface. At the same time, the planar quality of the ‘blinkers’ which ‘peel away’ from the main volume is reinforced by discontinuities in colour between the soffit, leading edge and principle surface.”

This animation of blank walling is continued throughout the composition however RALA’s considered use of varied hues is not limited to the vibrant tints so regularly found in buildings designed for young children. Shades of grey also make a regular appearance, for example ‘the grey wall on the north side of the Learning Resource Centre is continuous with the grey beam over the reading space which is ancillary to the main space’.

In some design projects where colour plays a strong role it has proven easy for the architect to go overboard and inject colour without due consideration for its cause. In this unassuming scheme RALA have struck a balance between employing colour for a specific function and aesthetic effect: “While much of this is intuitive, as St. Christopher’s evolved, as with any emerging project, a ‘codified’ approach emerges which reinforces the legibility of the elements and spaces, helping teachers, children and visitors understand, navigate, and hopefully enjoy their environment. In the context of the sort of learning environment which a primary school typifies, the occasional moment of surprise or delight cannot be out of place.”

WAN is now accepting entries for the inaugural Colour in Architecture Award. Click here to find out more or contact Amy Knight at with any queries.

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