King’s School Ely, Cambridgeshire Education Building, English Performing Arts Design, Architects

King’s School Ely Arts Facility

Education Building in Cambridgeshire, southwest England design by ORMS, UK

15 Oct 2010

King’s School Ely Building

Architects: ORMS

New arts facilities completed at Cambridge School

ORMS Architecture Design has recently completed a striking Performing Arts Department and Theatre extension for The King’s School Ely, a leading Cambridgeshire school in the medieval heart of Ely and close to the 11th century Cathedral.

Originally selected following a national design competition, ORMS helped The King’s School to develop proposals to create a Performing Arts complex which incorporated their existing Music School and School Hall. The King’s School has always had a superb reputation for its art and so the proposals were driven by a desire to create an energetic focus for its arts students.

King’s School Ely Arts Facility building:
King's School Ely King's School Ely Building
photographs : Kilian O’Sullivan

ORMS has now created a complex of linked but separate buildings for Art, Drama, Music and Performance arranged around a courtyard garden. This complex has been achieved with a combination of new buildings and the imaginative reuse of existing buildings in a remarkably cost effective solution given the range of benefits which the scheme offers. The proposals also set out a plan to allow the school to expand its academic facilities around a second courtyard at some stage in the future.

The centre piece is a newly built two-storey Art school. During historical research ORMS discovered drawings of the beautiful roof structure of the former sacristan’s barn at Ely. This was the inspiration for the new two-storey art building which is undoubtedly modern but sympathetic – in scale, simple building form and materiality – to its historic setting.

The quality of natural light in this building is however entirely modern, balancing light from different facades and from the continuous ridge roof light to create a magical quality of internal environment. These qualities are further enhanced by careful selection and positioning of artificial lighting.

Externally the zinc edged, slate covered roof is crowned by a continuous north facing ridge window which floods the interior with light and creates a warm and inspirational environment for the young artists. The regular structure of the timber roof gives order to the interior spaces.

Steel is used to make the structure more elegant and it enables a continuous eaves level window overlooking the Bishop’s Palace garden. The subtle use of artificial lighting enhances the building’s winter life and long views have been created within the building to give a sense of the rich variety of art which is being produced by The King’s School students.

The Drama department is located in former changing and storage buildings which have been extended with a newly built, clerestorey lit drama studio. This is positioned right next to the School Hall which was originally designed in the 1960s as a multi-purpose gym and has more recently been used as a theatre.

It has now been transformed by a number of simple and cost effective enhancements. These include a new gallery with extra audience seating and a lighting/audio control desk. Tiered bleacher seating stacks under the gallery when not in use and improves the audience sight lines from the rear of the Hall. A substantial back stage extension doubles as an extra drama classroom and ‘black box’ performance space.

A covered walk-way used to be used for chair storage. It has been extended to form a cloister which is the major entrance to the Art and Drama spaces. It surrounds the new courtyard garden, creating an active focus for the School’s creative arts and making a safe and enclosed environment for students.

ORMS incorporated a palette of materials – timber, slate, zinc, brick and copper – to support the initiative that the new buildings are the link between the modern classrooms and the surrounding urban grain of medieval buildings. With vertical cedar boarding, the smooth exterior is enhanced by flush velfac windows which reinforce the sense that this is a member of a family of simple but honest and ancient buildings.

Sustainability is exceptional because of the extent of reuse of older buildings. The new elements of construction use timber frame construction which wraps around a light weight steel frame supporting concrete slabs. The new buildings have exposed thermal capacity to smooth temperature fluctuations with exceptional insulation values. The exposed mass and underfloor heating provide a student-friendly and comfortable environment which has excellent natural daylight, is naturally ventilated and also achieves high energy performance.

ORMS Director, Oliver Richards, comments:
“Our challenge was to match the excellence of King’s nationally acclaimed art department while relocating them into the heart of the school. This has been an opportunity to integrate much of the artistic life of the school to make 1+1=3 with a series of remarkably cost effective solutions. It has been a real pleasure to see the tangible excitement of teachers and students who are truly inspired by their new spaces.”

Kings’s School Ely photos : Kilian O’Sullivan Photographer


ORMS is a 50 strong team of architects and interior designers with a studio in Clerkenwell, London, and projects throughout the UK. ORMS has a passion for creating buildings that embody fresh ideas and exceptional attention to detail. ORMS places a strong emphasis on designing from the inside out. For ORMS an outstanding user experience is the ultimate measure of success, an approach that has resulted in many awards including, most recently, an RIBA award for the Skypad Teenage Cancer Trust unit.

Despite its relatively small size, ORMS has a very broad portfolio including projects in the commercial, residential, education, leisure, retail and public sectors. ORMS’ compact structure, collaborative ethos and pro-active knowledge transference enables innovations and ideas from each sector to be shared across the practice reinforcing ORMS ability to develop original solutions and win awards.

Kings’s School Ely images / information from S&R

Address: Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4EW, England, UK

Switchboard +44 (0)1353 660700

Admissions +44 (0)1353 660707

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