A new, competition winning building at Reigate Grammar School, designed by London-based firm, Walters & Cohen Architects, has been opened.
With the generous benefaction and support of the Peter Harrison Foundation, the ‘Harrison Centre’ (a library and sixth form centre) at Reigate Grammar School in Surrey will provide new facilities for the co-ed independent school of about 900 pupils.
Following their competition win in 2013, Walters & Cohen first undertook a masterplan and space audit of the school’s existing facilities, which were spread across two sites. At that time, the small parcel of land between them became available and was the ideal site for the new 1,620m2 library and sixth form centre, funded by the Peter Harrison Foundation.
The new sixth form centre provides a link between the school’s two main areas whilst also serving as the first stage of the broader masterplan, laying the groundwork for future developments.
The red-brick building reflects the materials, massing and pitched-roof typology of the attractive Victorian school estate. Inside, the library has a wonderfully calm atmosphere. Light filters in from the rooflights at the peak of the building, while bookshelves frame large windows that look out across the peaceful old churchyard. The acoustic treatment means that independent learning and small group work can take place side by side without fuss. Comfortable furniture and traditional work spaces on both floors give pupils more choice of how they would like to study.
Provision of flexible, column-free spaces with natural ventilation was a driving principle of the overall design, and so a hybrid solution of concrete and steel was proposed. The use of RC slabs and concrete-encased steel beams has produced an efficient structure to accommodate the large spans desired by the client, whilst allowing the thermal mass of the in-situ concrete to be utilised in providing natural cooling during the day.
The sturdy exposed trusses and sense of openness continue throughout the building, connecting the library with the classrooms and offices either side. On the ground floor, the sixth form centre is a generous, mature space for study, socialising and lunch. Pupils and staff love the building, which has been described as ‘the knot in the bow tie of the school’.
The new building is capped by a stunning pitched roof reminiscent of existing buildings in the surrounding area. This has been realised via an exposed glulam timber-steel truss system that spans the full 12 m width of the building, keeping steel columns to the perimeter, thus producing a large column-free floor space below. Since the truss is entirely exposed at the second-floor library, careful detailing was essential in order to achieve a high-quality finish.
Cindy Walters, Director at Walters & Cohen Architects, said:
“The Harrison Centre connects one side of the school to the other and creates a generous forecourt of civic space. When developing the design with our client, we discussed how students like to work and how we could achieve the right balance of formal and informal spaces. The building creates a studious and calm environment for individual study, small group meetings and quiet socialising. We are delighted that so many students choose to study in the library, sometimes even in school holidays.”
Steve Douty, Bursar at Reigate Grammar School, said:
“The new Harrison Centre is so much more than a new building. The building is everything we planned for in terms of how it performs for the school, with almost every pupil passing through its doors at least once in every school day. It now effectively joins up our split site - we call it the knot in our bow tie. What we had not realised was how it would also become the heart of the school. The external landscaping has extended the footprint of the building to include the Cross of Sacrifice which has been restored to its original condition. The new Portland stone wall that surrounds it, the 5ft yew hedging and the planting of many new trees, create an environment to be enjoyed by both the school and the local community.”
Steve Toon, Design Director at AKT II, said:
“The highly visual and dramatic timber roof structure within the new building demonstrates how design should be brought into the progressive learning place”.