Opened in 1958, Holland Park School became the flagship for 'comprehensive' education in England, known as the "socialist Eton" due to its impressive reputation. But by 2004, when an architectural competition for redevelopment was instigated, the school's existing buildings were beyond economic repair and failed to meet modern demands, with inflexible accommodation and tortuous circulation. The greatest challenge for architects Aedas was to design a new building to be built on the original site while the existing school remained in operation and that allowed part of the site to be sold to fund the construction but also left more usable external space than before.
Two Halves United
The result is a new block, approximately 100m long and 30m wide. A large, 7m deep basement extends across the entire building footprint to a depth of 7m, accommodating the sports hall and swimming pool as well as kitchen and dining areas. The above-ground, five storey parts are conceived as two distinct halves united by a central atrium stretching its full length and linked by a series of walkways. The east half contains the more conventional teaching spaces and is constructed using in-situ concrete columns and flat slab construction. The west half is a more dramatic, steel A-frame structure enabling the larger teaching and assembly rooms. This structure then straddles the larger spaces within the basement to create clear-span spaces.
Maximising natural lighting deep into the building with extensive glazing, while controlling glare and solar gain, proved central to the architects' strategy for design of the facades. But reducing visual impact of the long block on its sensitive surroundings - close to Holland Park and with mature trees on site – was also important. The east elevation is finished with a gently undulating stainless steel mesh, passing over a central copper canopy signalling the main entrance.
Dynamic Three-dimensional Character
In contrast, the west facade is defined by a series of vertical fins in pre-patinated copper, brass and bronze which take on a strong, dynamic three-dimensional character. The architect for the project, Peter Runacres, explains the development of their design: "Due to the building's orientation, this elevation receives more solar gain than the east side and vertical fins are more effective in controlling glare while maximising daylight. The initial design had an arrangement of broken up, smaller fins but solar gain computer modelling revealed that more were needed.
"We then experimented using a physical model and found that this arrangement created too much visual mass so, instead, settled on full-height fins set at three - apparently random – spacings, continuing over the roof. A soft, sine curve was developed for the fin profiles, which gives an organic feel reflecting the mature trees both on the site and facing this façade from the adjacent Holland Park. We selected the mix of copper and its alloys to give a natural richness, with timeless yet contemporary qualities, as well as to deliver longevity and minimal maintenance."
The copper and copper alloy clad fins are thin in section, minimising the impact on views from inside the building. But their depth acts as an effective barrier to glare and unwanted solar gain from afternoon sunshine. Viewed from an angle, the fins come together to generate a stunning effect of dynamic sinuous forms across the façade.