Alfriston School

Alfriston School

Alfriston school, a secondary-age day and boarding school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, caters for 120 girls with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities. Its new swimming pool building, designed by Duggan Morris Architects, is enclosed by a beautiful multi-faceted timber structure – its innovative shape a direct yet imaginative response to the requirements of the brief.

Alfriston school, a secondary-age day and boarding school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, caters for 120 girls with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities. Its swimmming pool building, completed in 2014, was designed by Duggan Morris Architects to be enclosed by a beautiful multi-faceted timber structure – its innovative shape a direct yet imaginative response to the requirements of the brief.

Although its grounds are large and surrounded by woodland, the main school buildings cluster together in a corner near the entrance while the rest of the site is given over to school playing fields. The new building, with its 16.5 metre long pool, is linked to the existing gym, connecting it back to the main buildings: it extends on a sloping site into the school playing field area. In concept, the design was envisaged as a lightweight timber structure floating over the water.

Poised on a series of steel columns, three pitched and tapered roofs span the entire pool and turn down at the edges in a series of fractured triangular gables, like a complex origami ‘hat’. This dramatic and innovative form was designed as a contemporary expression of the local pitched roof vernacular, linking it to the traditional school buildings alongside.

On the outside, the roof and gables of the pool building are clad with timber boards, reflecting the nearby mature woodland setting. On the inside, the timber structure is exposed and acts as an acoustic baffle, reducing sound reverberation to create a quiet and peaceful pool space. This was an important requirement of the brief as many children with autism or learning disabilities are disturbed by noisy surroundings and strong colours, and respond better to environments in which visual clutter is reduced.

Timber was the the logical and most economical choice for the structure of the new pool for its qualities of natural sound absorption and its ability to cope with the humid and aggressive atmosphere of a pool environment. It was also the ideal material for off-site prefabrication of the structure. As part of the project and with a view to opening the pool to public use to generate revenue for the school, the architect has also refurbished the existing gym and consolidated the sports facilities.

The new pool building is linked to the gym by a smaller building, now the main entrance to the sports department, with a suite of new changing rooms shared by gym and pool, fitness suite, offices and plant room. Access ways are wide enough to accommodate disabilities and there are large storage areas for mobile hoist equipment.

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