The existing ‘inner city’ state school catered for 900 girls with less than 5% of required outdoor space. It had no dedicated gym, refectory and virtually no accessibility for the disabled. The school wanted to use sport, dance, drama, art and music as essential components in drawing the individuality and talent out of their students. Gumuchdjian Architects were set this difficult task within a very small exiting footprint.
The obvious solution of creating a volume of space that could be used as a possible gymnasium and dance studio had to overcome some major logistical problems. Being located in a conservation area adjacent to expensive sites meant that expansion upwards and sideways was very limited.
The clever design solution was to locate the new building beneath the playground with the Art and Music Departments above ground in a building scaled to its historic context. The underground structure needed to retain buildings on three sides and keep the water out that sits half way up its sides. The underground facility had to be bright, fresh and open to the elements – an apparent contradiction for a basement. Materials used throughout the project were lightweight and industrial but detailed to give the impression of a highly bespoke piece of architecture.
Images © Richard Davies, Morley von Sternberg