December 1, 2020
St Paul’s School Unveils Walters & Cohen–Designed Building
Sitting at the heart of the London school’s campus, the new addition was created to support a variety of work styles and foster learning beyond the classroom.
The notion that different kinds of spaces facilitate different work styles is now so entrenched in office and university design, it has become a cliché. Yet the same thinking hasn’t taken off in grade schools. One notable exception can be found in the projects of London-based architecture practice Walters & Cohen. “We started talking about the varieties of spaces in schools 20 years ago,” says director and cofounder Michál Cohen, who recently oversaw the new building for St Paul’s School, an independent school for boys (ages 7–18) in southwest London. “It’s about making sure children have choices and access to resources so that if they want to do something different, like sit quietly and study in a small group, they can.”
The more-than-97,000-square-foot accommodation provides the usual spaces like a cafeteria, offices, and 56 airy classrooms. But in keeping with St Paul’s ethos of fostering debate, interaction, and learning beyond the classroom, there’s also a buzzy triple-height atrium, a timber-lined library with views across the Thames, and breakout spaces of various sizes along wide, daylit corridors. The building’s L shape connects it to existing structures on either side, allowing for easy circulation routes on all levels, and a central courtyard lies at its heart. Inside, a material palette of glazed concrete and timber paneling provides a robust warmth along with acoustic and thermal comfort.
The guiding idea of “variety” also shows up on the building’s facades, where the architects used three different window modules to create a playful and irregular pattern. “If you have something that’s a little bit broken up and arrhythmic, it adds variety not only to the outside but also to the class-rooms,” Cohen says. It may seem like a subtle move, but like the rest of the project, it is quietly transformative.
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