Stowe School architecture, Buckinghamshire building architects, English education project images
West House Boarding House at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire
29 November 2023
Location: Buckinghamshire, southeast England, UK
Photos by Richard Chivers
West House Boarding House at Stowe School, England
In continuation of MICA’s long-standing relationship with Stowe School, they have been appointed to design a new Sixth Form Boarding House and associated landscaping adjacent to the West Houses within its historic grounds. The provision of new boarding accommodation and sixth form facilities follows the School’s ongoing comprehensive review of existing accommodation, developing Stowe as a centre of excellence for education.
In the southwest of Stowe Gardens, a new girls’ boarding house has been introduced into the setting of one of the pre-eminent examples of the English Landscape Movement.
Sheltered at the edge of a long dividing strip of structured woodland known as Pyramid Wood or Rook Spinney defining the edge of the Western Gardens, the area is concealed from the historically constructed grazing land once of English longhorns and rare breeds.
An outskirt of the pleasure gardens, the landscape apron has long been a place for surprise and delight. In the undergrowth, a ruined foundation and base of Vanbrugh’s last work at Stowe is still visible; a 60-foot Egyptian-style pyramid, completed by Gibbs after Vanbrugh’s death and dedicated to his memory.
Since Stowe School’s founding in 1923, there has been incremental development along the fringe of the Western Gardens and inside the linear tree belt. In 1935 R Fielding Dodd added a set of three repeating outlying masters’ residences known as the Home Park Houses. Now sheltered by mature trees from the historic landscape, the Neo-Georgian street is a suburban adjunct to the Arcadian dream.
A New Typology
Since the School’s founding, they have undertaken an ambitious set of improvements to the estate. Contributing to this transformation, the office has worked on a number of projects for the School over the last eighteen years, helping to develop a masterplan, two boarding houses and an art school. As a consequence of the longstanding partnership, the setting offered an opportunity to depart from the tried and tested formal, and operational typologies associated with independent boarding and pastoral care.
As demand for sixth form places has increased, the existing Home Park Houses have been unable to cater to the needs of the School. The new house provides 24 en-suite study bedrooms and reconciles shared functions of the existing Houses.
A snaking path links the Home Park boarding settlement to the main school campus to the north, cranking through woods and over sloping ground to meet a cluster of two-storey houses. The site hugs tightly to the houses and outbuildings, performing as a gateway to the landscape.
The plan is split into two blocks, a low-lying two-storey block with external terrace and main shared facilities. The second is partially sunken into the ground plane over three floors and connected by a bridge over the path running between.
Utilising the path, the new accommodation runs alongside the three houses, continuing a loose concatenation of line, materiality and form, enclosing a courtyard as a bridging element to the fourth house.
The adjacent houses are simple rectangular footprints of earthy brown brick tones and white steel framed windows. The three houses are connected by single storey wings traced by a brick string course and a common eaves level marking tall chimneys and steep pantile roofs.
Tightly planned study bedrooms clustered in multiples of threes and sixes, contain twelve bedrooms in a block, giving flexibility to occupancy and management arrangements. Bedrooms open onto common areas avoiding the dreaded “corridor” and encourage positive shared living experiences. The accommodation clusters are connected by double-height spaces, a feature glazed bridge, bright and open stairwells, and sheltered raised external terraces.
Internal elements give form to the external shape. Staircase and lift are celebrated in brick drums and short towers, reminiscent of castle forms and defensive structures.
Light oak floors and white walls provide a background environment to ground floor common areas, enlivened by large picture windows with views of the landscape. Upper levels have strong colour ranges of yellow and orange flooring to animate common spaces and are used as an organising principle, differentiating floors and connecting shared spaces. Bedrooms are recessive, with white fitted furniture as a neutral backdrop to brighter flooring and the warmer neutrals of the window seats fabrics and curtains.
Path, topography, woodland, and surrounding massing are playfully integrated in response to the setting. Arranged over two blocks linked at high level, the silhouette is refracted into groupings of taller volumes framed by terraces and parapets.
The path is enclosed by solid walls of finely detailed brick and sentried by a solemn drum and tower elements, into a small courtyard. Bedrooms at ground are sheltered by the deep-set tree belt offering long views across the open landscape.
Datums are taken from adjacent houses – the common eaves level marks a parapet, with a soldier course regulating ground and first floor divisions. From these guides, volumes shift, rise and fall in curtains of brick. Windows are loosely arranged in open plan spaces or aligned behind stacks of accommodation, in crisp white arrangements. A faintly noticed change in brick pointing above the string course rewards closer observers.
West House Boarding House at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire – Building Information
Architect: MICA – https://micaarchitects.com/
Structural Engineer: Tim Lucas [Price & Myers]
Engineer: RED Engineering M&E
Quantity Surveyor: Michael Edwards & Associates
Landscape Consultant: Quartet Design
Acoustic Consultants: Sandy Brown Associates
Main Contractor: Stepnell
Photography: Richard Chivers
West House Boarding House at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire images / information received 291123 from Architect MICA
Location: Stowe, Buckinghamshire, southeast England, UK
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