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BUILDING PROJECTS


THE MITCHELL BUILDING AT THE SKINNERS’ SCHOOL TUNBRIDGE WELLS


A vertical learning trajectory


Roseanne Field speaks to Bell Phillips Architects about their first education project – a new building for a fast- growing Kent grammar school which needed to provide a considered aesthetic result to harmonise with the historic buildings surrounding it


T


he Skinners’ School, a popular boys grammar school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was established in 1887 and expanded over the years as pupil numbers grew to become a campus of separate buildings; however it continued to need new facilities. In 2013 Tim Bell, director at Bell Phillips Architects, and a formal pupil, received an ‘old boys’ newsletter asking if anyone was able to contribute money to help fund a new sports hall. As Bell explains to ADF, he wasn’t able to help financially, but instead offered his time to help with the design of subsequent buildings. “They had an architect and design team, but the next thing they needed to think about was a new humanities building,” he explains. “We spent about six months working pro bono to help them understand what this new building was, what was going to go in it, where it should go on the campus.” With the completion of the new sports


hall, the old brick gymnasium had become redundant, making the location for the new building fairly easy to pinpoint. However, there were still discussions about what the building would house. “We went through a process of looking at that, and it became clear that it was a sixth form centre, English department and library,” Bell says. Despite having got this far, including going through planning, the school lacked


the required funding, so the project was put on hold for a few years until the pressure on school places got so great that Kent County Council decided to allocate money to Skinners as well as other schools for expansion. This, plus an undisclosed donation from another ex pupil and a fundraising effort, meant they were finally in a position to begin work.


Planning consent had expired in the years since the initial plans were put together and the budget had shrunk slightly to £3.25m, meaning new plans were drawn up. “But from that point it moved quite quickly,” says Bell.


The project was the practice’s first foray into the education sector, which Bell admits presented an additional challenge. “We had to read all the design guidance and get our heads round it,” he says. “It was a way to get our first education project via a school and client that we already knew, the relationship and trust we had was very helpful in convincing them we were the right people for the job.”


A good education environment The building has three storeys, with the main entrance facing onto the schoolyard. Upon entering via a ‘cloister’ area, pupils find the main staircase on the left and the sixth form centre on the right, which includes intimate study spaces as well as more informal study


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