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16 THE SKINNERS’ SCHOOL, TUNBRIDGE WELLS


functional spaces at its core,” says Ly – they were also open to letting the practice put forward ideas on the brief. In fact, Bell adds: “a lot of it came from us,” continuing, “they wanted high quality classrooms, a great library – something that was uplifting and motivating.” Part of the required quality in the classrooms was making them dual aspect. A single-loaded corridor runs through the building with classrooms separated from it by a series of glazed openings, allowing the good daylight that’s crucial to a good learning environment in from both sides. They also wanted to ensure good air quality, so installed an MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) system – “ideally it would be entirely natural cross ventilation, but we couldn’t quite achieve that,” says Bell.


Getting acoustics right was a particular challenge in the library, which has a steep pitched roof. “We worked very closely with acoustics engineers to design the ceiling to perform in the way that it needs to for such a unique space,” Ly explains. Bell adds that the school has commented how successful the acoustics are in the learning spaces: “They’re very quiet; great places to concentrate.”


Materials played an important part in the


“We wanted to take the key Arts and Crafts features and try to translate that into something more contemporary, but also not steal the limelight from the existing buildings”


Ethan Ly, Bell Phillips Architects WWW.ARCHITECTSDATAFILE.CO.UK


spaces and a breakout area. The first floor houses the English department’s classrooms, and the library and a conference room occupy the second floor. This layout was carefully chosen, as Ethan Ly, architect at the practice, explains. “It’s a hierarchy of concentration, as you go up it gets quieter,” he says. “With the library being a special place we put it at the top of the building to celebrate the form.”


Although the school were keen to ensure the building would function precisely to their requirements – “they had this vision of really


project, both for reasons of heritage and practicality. The library is finished with a timber ceiling which refers to the buttressed hall in the Main School. Ly explains: “we wanted to emulate the Arts and Crafts feel but give a more contemporary twist to it”. Timber also features throughout the lower floors as well as the library. “It leads you through the centre of the building to the top,” Ly says. “It creates some warmth in the special areas. of the building.” Vertical planks of eucalyptus have been installed up the stairwell and in the library, adding a subtle echo of the verticality of the neighbouring 19th century buildings. Elsewhere, the designers kept things fairly ‘clean’ and stripped back, largely for building efficiency reasons. “The overheating strategy heavily relied on an exposed concrete slab to absorb the thermal mass during the day,” explains Ly. “Part of that strategy was to keep that slab visible, and then we had to design an acoustic ceiling, so a lot of these spaces are simple in that way, functionally.”


Sensitive exteriors


It was a particular demand of the school that the new building would complement the existing gothic buildings – the Main School and Byng Hall – sitting on either side. “Their


ADF JUNE 2021


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