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THE SKINNERS’ SCHOOL, TUNBRIDGE WELLS


brief was that it needed to be a dignified building that very much responds to the context,” explains Bell. “They are very beautiful late 19th century buildings on the street frontage and ours sat bang in the middle, so it was really important that it was something architecturally worthy, and the client was absolutely in that mindset as well.” The new building’s visibility from the street made sensitivity even more pertinent. In addition to verticality, the other main external approach used by the architects was exploiting the possibilities of brick, to tie into the earlier buildings. “We wanted to take the key Arts and Crafts and gothic features and try to translate that into something more contemporary, but also not steal the limelight from the existing buildings,” Ly explains. To form the gable ends, as well as the window jambs, brick columns were rotated 45 degrees to create triangular piers. This was the result of “a lot of testing of what we could do to pay homage to these buildings,” says Ly. The Traditional Brick & Stone bricks manufactured by Engel Baksteen were laid using traditional bricklaying techniques, with the resulting aesthetic being preferred by the architects. They consulted with the bricklaying subcontractors early on to “make sure everyone was on the same page.” The practice also included ‘soldier’ courses of brickwork above and below the windows, emulating the stone lintels that feature elsewhere.


Although not street facing, the practice knew the school facing gable was equally key, and therefore wanted to similarly echo the gothic style of the buildings next door. “It’s an important internal elevation for the school,” says Ly.


While the practice were careful to pay homage to the surrounding buildings, earlier additions had not been so considered. “Over the years they collected these buildings which don’t necessarily relate architecturally to the existing buildings, in part due to the fact they’re quite receded into the campus,” Ly says. They therefore also felt a responsibility to unify the campus with the design of the new building. “The old playground is very much at the heart of the site, and around the other side of that sit these various ad hoc buildings,” Bell explains. “It was really trying to create a fourth side to that collection of buildings that enclose the playground and create some sense to it so it adheres them together as a group.” Although the building was replacing the


old gymnasium, the architects moved its footprint to improve how it sits in the


ADF JUNE 2021


17


campus. “It was in a very awkward position, it was quite close to the school boundary and you couldn’t circulate around it,” Ly explains. “What we aimed to do was pull away from that boundary with our building but also give enough breathing room for the existing buildings as well.” As well as generally improving circulation, it proved especially useful in allowing the school to implement one way systems in order to fulfil its Covid safety strategy.


Despite being designed to echo the 19th century buildings, the new building also incorporates an array of sustainable features, including roof mounted PV panels, the HVAC system which exceeds Part L requirements, the glazing (reducing the need for artificial light), and the concrete to contribute thermal mass.


Construction


Constructing a building within a busy school campus was another challenge the practice had to overcome. “The location is safety- critical because it’s the main access route for fire tenders and emergency vehicles into the playgrounds behind,” Bell explains. They therefore had to keep that access open throughout construction. “We had to manage how we would design a building for the long term but equally think about how it could be built in the short term with students around.” Where possible the team planned for the more disruptive work to take place during


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In addition to verticality, the other main external approach used by the architects was exploiting the possibilities of brick


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